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Guilds and middle-class welfare, 1550–1800: provisions for burial, sickness, old age, and widowhood

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Abstract

Guilds provided for masters' and journeymen's burial, sickness, old age, and widowhood. Guild welfare was of importance to artisans, to the functioning of guilds, to the myriad of urban social relations, and to the political economy. However, it is an understated and neglected aspect of guild activities. This article looks at welfare provision by guilds, with the aim of addressing four questions. Firstly, for which risks did guild welfare arrangements exist in the Netherlands between 1550 and 1800, and what were the coverage, contributions, benefit levels, and conditions? Secondly, can guild welfare arrangements be regarded as insurance? Thirdly, to what extent and how did guilds overcome classic insurance problems such as adverse selection, moral hazards, and correlated risks? Finally, what was the position of guild provision in the Dutch political economy and vis-à-vis poor relief?

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