The events of the 1590s had suddenly brought home to more thoughtful Castilians the harsh truth about their native land – its poverty in the midst of riches, its power that had shown itself impotent…
For this was not only a time of crisis, but a time also of the awareness of crisis – of a bitter realization that things had gone wrong. It was under the influence of the arbitristas that early seventeenth-century Castile surrendered itself to an orgy of national introspection, desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion….
The arbitristas proposed that Government expenditure should be slashed…
Most of the arbitristas recommended the reduction of schools and convents and the clearing of the Court as the solution to the problem. Yet this was really to mistake the symptoms for the cause.
MartínGonzález de Cellorigo was almost alone in appreciating that the fundamental problem lay not so much in heavy spending by Crown and upper classes –since this spending itself created a valuable demand for goods and services – as in the disproportion between expenditure and investment.
‘Money is not true wealth,’ he wrote, and his concern was to increase the national wealth by increasing the nation’s productive capacity rather than its stock of precious metals. This could only be achieved by investing more money in agricultural and industrial development. At present, surplus wealth was being unproductively invested –‘dissipated on thin air – on papers, contracts, censos, and letters of exchange, on cash, and silver, and gold – instead of being expended on things that yield profits and attract riches from outside to augment the riches within.And thus there is no money, gold, or silver in Spain because there is so much; and it is not rich, because of all its riches….’
The Castile of González de Cellorigo was…a society in which both money and labour were misapplied; an unbalanced, top-heavy society, in which, according to González, there were thirty parasites for every one man who did an honest day’s work; a society with a false sense of values, which mistook the shadow for substance, and substance for the shadow.
J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716
[Many thanks to Tom Young for sending me the above text.]