Debates - Guilds

Is there a link between the present-day insurance system in Western Europe and the old guild system? 


Guilds provided an institutional infrastructure for mutual aid. By appealing to occupational solidarity, financial and social security were enhanced. As the informal solidarity of the guilds started to falter in the seventeenth century — though the exact timing is a topic of debate — the need for financial and social security increased, leading to the more formal organization of mutual aid. At first, after the Reformation, this took shape within the guilds. Later, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the journeymen founded their own boxes, as their social and economic position declined and they did not have access to the guild boxes of their masters. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we witness a rise in separate sickness, burial and life insurance boxes and a further weakening of the link between occupation and institutions based on collectivities. This leads us into the twentieth century, in which insurance companies, trade-unions and the state took over the functions originally associated with mutual aid associations. In this light, guilds laid the foundation for our contemporary insurance system (based in large part on Bos, 1998 and Van Genabeek, 1999; while true for the Netherlands, this may not be the case for all of Western Europe).



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