Early Germanic Contributions to Economic Thought, Medieval Economic

Relatively little is to be said about the economic ideas of the early Germanic tribes. Their contribution was rather a new point of view, given expression in particular customs. This is not the place to discuss the mark, the three-field system, and all the interesting phenomena of their industrial life. It will suffice to recall the fact that originally the social and economic unit was the village community (Genossenschaff), a virtually self-sufficient group of households, democratic and similar in wealth. The community came before the individual, and within it the idea of brotherhood was strong. It followed that exchange for gain was hardly tolerated within the community, but a common value was placed upon such things as were exchanged, and even exchanges with other groups were regulated. There was no money economy.

The ideas and customs of the Germanic tribes sharply differ­entiate them from the Romans. The latter based their law upon individual property rights; the former emphasized the commu­nity, — though a large degree of democracy gave room for a broad individualism. In agriculture, for example, the members of the village community, despite individual ownership of arable land, had to do their work at the same time and in the same way.

Accordingly, with the Romans there was a sharp distinction between private and public rights, but in the case of the Teutons these rights were mutually determining and faded into one an­other. More specifically, Roman law made property rights rather absolute and rigid, while by Germanic custom these rights were relative and changing. For example, the Genossen-schaften had several different kinds of landed property, perhaps these four: dwelling places, gardens, arable lands, waste lands. In the first two, a large degree of private property was recog­nized; but the fields, with their changing strips, were subject to the plans of the community, and the waste land, or "commons," as its name implies, was the property of no individual. Thus property rights had a different extent according to the nature of the object involved.

A noteworthy characteristic was the emphasis put by these peoples upon personal rights. Their laws seem to indicate that they were more concerned about such than about property rights. On the other hand, and almost paradoxically, personal rights depended largely upon landed property, land being the chief factor in their industrial stage.