The Indies, Value, and Wealth

in New World Gold

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226856186
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226856193 | DOI:
The Indies, Value, and Wealth

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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Due to the Spanish crown's overconfident reliance on New World treasures, a system of loans emerged that, after the first bankruptcy of 1557, transformed into long-term securities made available to individual investors by Genoese bankers. In the last decades of the sixteenth century, there was heavy demand for rent incomes that made the initial boom of government bonds (juros) pale in comparison with the popularity of mortgage property loans (censos). This chapter explores the ambiguous role of the Indies in the attempts to mediate value. Political economists argued that the economy had been ruined by treasures, while moralists attributed the loss of virtue caused by wealth and luxury to the Indies. To counter the effeminizing effects of the monetary economy and intercontinental trade, Francisco de Quevedo and Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola proposed martial virtues. The chapter argues that the literary landscape in the Indies masked the decline of value by stabilizing valuation around the goodness of New World gold. By displaying gold pieces, the indiano and the Amazon demonstrate what the center of value should be.

Keywords: New World; gold; Indies; value; wealth; loans; intercontinental trade; monetary economy; martial virtues; rent incomes

Chapter.  17705 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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