The weaving mill in the workhouse at Innsbruck, copperplate engraving, 18th century

The Dream of Affluence

Mercantilist Ideas and Information about the Population


Every age has its ideas about the economy: the Habsburgs liked the mercantilist theories because they promised power and affluence.

The Habsburg rulers of the eighteenth century strove for an increase in their economic and military power, which was to be achieved with the help of mercantilist policies on population and the economy. The basis for this was seen in as large as possible a population, who were to work longer, produce more and pay more taxes. That there was in fact an increase in the population in the eighteenth century can, however, be attributed only to a limited extent to such intervention by the Habsburgs. In order to obtain information which was of use for the purposes of economic and military policy, Maria Theresia and Joseph II had so-called ‘descriptions of souls’ carried out, that is to say the first statistical surveys of the people of the Habsburg Monarchy.

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