New World Gold
New World Gold
An Age of Wealth
This chapter shows that money originated in the Indies. The visual spectacle of treasure filling both the House of Trade and the Mint at Seville overshadowed the growing importance of money as function. Having a fortune enabled one to acquire both status and power, yet the credit boom that prospered with intercontinental trade and the Spanish empire challenged the meaning and role of money in social life. Concerns about rising prices, the growth of financial markets, and the outflow of bullion persisted in the Indies, which was seen as both the source of infinite wealth and a threat to the benefits it was supposed to provide. Finances and capital were the consequences of treasures, yet they were eclipsed by the regular arrivals of enormous amounts of bullion from the New World, a premise that also defined the materialistic monetary policies of mercantilism. American literary works, economic writings, and chronicles all featured the Indies as an agent of change and disruption that altered the meaning and functions of money, transformed the structure of commerce, and corroded the ideals of civility.
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