Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Government borrowing, seventeenth century style

Excessive government spending and high levels of debt are not new. The Stuart monarchy was perennially hard up. One reason for this was the Stuart kings’ extravagance. Another was that no-one was quite sure how much it actually cost to run the country, and therefore how much the government should be seeking to raise in revenue. And there was not yet an efficient system for assessing and collecting taxes.

In addition to borrowing money from his wealthy subjects, Charles II dealt with his money problems by simply not paying the people to whom he owed money - suppliers of goods and services, and people who worked for the government.

Employees of the Royal Dockyards, where ships of the Royal Navy were built and repaired, were supposed to be paid quarterly, but their wages were always in arrears, often by years.

Richard Cooper, a labourer of Deptford, died in June 1687. He was owed  wages from ‘the late King’ (Charles II, who died in February 1685) and 'this King’ (James II).
Richard Cooper seemed to be running a beer house or beer shop as a sideline, perhaps to raise some ready cash while waiting for his wages. When he died he had in his cellar £5 12s worth of beer, which he had not paid for.

He in turn had allowed ‘24 poore people’ to run up debts for beer of £12 4s 6d. These were ‘bad debts’ which were not expected to be recovered.

If Richard Cooper was typical (and he probably was) nearly everyone in Deptford owed money to someone, and was owed by someone else. The entire local economy operated on credit, because the King did not, or could not, pay his debts. 

No comments:

Post a Comment