Borrowing and lending are as widespread and old as human societies, but credit is a phenomenon of the modern world. In early European economies, a unique form of credit took shape, initially drafted for the powerful: the church used credit to fund the Crusades, state politicians amassed public debt to fund wars as well as imperial and domestic projects, and merchant and industrial classes embraced credit to expand their business empires. These early credit networks layered onto the many financial innovations of the early modern period, such as the accounting procedures and checks popularized by Italian merchants in the thirteenth century, banking and stock relations devised in fifteenth-century Holland, and British financial networks woven by mercantile expansion in the sixteenth century. Yet, most important for ...

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