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Control of economic life in the Middle Ages was exercised by specially organized groups known as guilds The essential purpose of guilds was to create monopolies They tried to exclude from the local market so far as possible both the outside trader and the independent trader inside who was not a member of the guild Their social attitude was to some extent influenced by the church but their aim was to use the town market peacefully profitably and pleasantly for themselves alone The Function of Guilds The economic regulation of the merchant guilds and craft guilds together might be compared to what we should have under the joint regulation of the economic life of our cities by the chambers of commerce and the labor unions of skilled workmen The merchant guilds were the first to appear in the late 11th and 12th centuries They were composed of all merchants and traders within the town including at first the artisans who in earlier medieval times were also traders As industry in the larger towns began o specialize in various crafts the earlier merchant guild split up into many craft guilds each composed of all the citizens engaged in the same trade The earlier merchant guilds disappeared except in towns too small for special craft organizations Both types of guilds sought recognition as privileged self-governing associations They sought special immunity from outside interference and they achieved it with varying degrees of success The chief purpose of both types of guilds were to preserve their monopoly of the town market against any outsider to maintain equality among their members by restraining the initiative of the more enterprising to guarantee the consumer wares of good and uniform quality and to establish a system of industrial education Before the monopolies were well organized membership was not exclusive on the contrary it was important to get as many members as possible The merchant guilds monopoly of trade
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