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In what ways did economic practices change during the Enlightenment?

Economic practices during the Enlightenment shifted towards free trade, industrialisation, and the development of capitalism.

The Enlightenment, a period of intellectual and philosophical development in the 17th and 18th centuries, brought about significant changes in economic practices. One of the most notable shifts was the move towards free trade. Enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith advocated for the removal of trade barriers and the promotion of economic competition. Smith's influential work, 'The Wealth of Nations', argued that free trade would lead to economic prosperity and growth. This marked a departure from the previous mercantilist system, which emphasised the accumulation of wealth through strict control of trade and industry.

Another significant change was the onset of industrialisation. The Enlightenment period saw the advent of new technologies and manufacturing processes, leading to the Industrial Revolution. This revolution transformed economies from primarily agrarian to industrial and manufacturing-based. The shift towards industrialisation led to increased productivity, economic growth, and the emergence of a new industrial working class.

The Enlightenment also saw the development of capitalism as an economic system. Capitalism, with its emphasis on private property, free markets, and competition, was seen as a way to promote individual freedom and economic prosperity. This was a significant shift from the feudal economic system that had dominated Europe for centuries. The rise of capitalism also led to changes in social structures, with the emergence of a new bourgeoisie class.

Furthermore, the Enlightenment brought about a new understanding of economics as a distinct field of study. Economists began to analyse economic phenomena using scientific methods, leading to the development of economic theories and models. This scientific approach to economics marked a significant departure from previous practices, where economics was often seen as a subset of moral philosophy.

IB History Tutor Summary: During the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, economic practices evolved significantly. Key changes included the shift towards free trade, encouraged by thinkers like Adam Smith, the start of the Industrial Revolution, which moved economies from agrarian to industrial, and the rise of capitalism, focusing on private property and free markets. This period also established economics as a separate scientific field.

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