The Economic History Review

Prices and real wages in seventeenth‐century Madrid

Volume 67 Issue 3
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Pages: 607-626Authors: J. I. Andrés Ucendo, R. Lanza García
Published online: April 11, 2014DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.12047

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This article focuses on the evolution of real wages earned by building labourers and craftsmen in Madrid during the seventeenth century. After a substantial rise brought about by the arrival of the Court in 1561, real wages experienced a remarkable fall from 1621-30 onwards. Our thesis is that the fiscal and monetary policies pursued by the Crown to fund its ambitious imperial policy exerted a clear influence on this decline. The currency manipulations of the low-value petty coin (maravedi) drove serious losses in the real wages of building labourers and craftsmen between 1621 and 1680. In the years around 1665 the real wages of both groups had fallen below the levels of 1561-1600, and the indirect taxes levied by the Crown and the town council contributed to keeping real wages stagnant at around the low levels of 1665-80 between 1681 and 1700. Although this issue merits further research, it seems unlikely that building labourers and craftsmen could have offset the decline in their real wages through an increase in the number of hours worked or a rise in the number of work days.