Modern models of economic growth and capitalist modernity rest on capital accumulation, inclusive institutions, and various often unquantifiable aspects of “culture” (to which institutions belong). Scholars have also pinpointed the ability, or rather illusion, of human individuals to plan and predict their economic and social future(s). This transition to future thinking opened European’s spaces of possibility during what Reinhart Koselleck famously labelled Europe’s Sattelzeit, c.1750–1850. Some have emphasized a European culture of dealing with contingency, which may have marked out a specific “Western” path toward modernity.
Without making a claim to global history, and focusing on the German speaking lands, I propose that the discovery of the open economic future was a much earlier project. Modern capitalism had roots in continental economic visions as early as the 1500s. We know them under common labels such as “Cameralism” and “mercantilism.” They were also apparent in Anglo-Saxon and Swedish economic reasoning since the mid-seventeenth century, suggesting that we may speak of a broader European tradition. The present article thus wishes to add to the debate, showing possibilities of an alternative—or a wider, more inclusive—genealogy of the modern economic mind, pointing out fresh ways of bringing together culture and economic development.