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Număr special Ştiin e Economice 2010




Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest



Academy of Economic Studies, Bucharest mariana.nicolae@rei.ase.ro Abstract Mentalities and behaviours are the result of the interactions between persons/groups and the environment. The present paper explores the way mentalities and behaviours have been created by and have themselves determined the economic, social and political processes on the present day Romanian territory at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. A historical perspective to the study of mentalities shows that the adaptation of a certain mindset, of the mainstream values characteristic of an epoch, to the changes in the evolution of the economy and society was also responsible for preparing the changes in the development of the economy. The capitalist spirit, understood as attitudes towards money, goods, trade, capital movement, is the main element in inducing and developing the new business oriented behaviour. The economic constraint becomes way as well as means of building up a wage earning attitude and behaviour of workers in the unfolding of economic activities. The present paper explores the differences between economic and business mentalities of people belonging to developed and emerging market economies by considering their historical development. Although on the present Romanian territory the 19th century was characterized by a profound political instability, reflected in specific life values and attitudes, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the main institutions which allowed the functioning of the market, the social contract and democracy had been set up and were running. The paper looks at the importance of the presence in the curriculum of business schools of the history of economy and/or of economic thought disciplines in order to help Romanian business higher education become a driving force in changing present day mentalities into values that pro-actively help Romanian students to become effective employees on the globalized labour markets.

Keywords: values, mentalities, higher education JEL classification: A13, A23, I20 292 Maria MURESAN, Mariana NICOLAE


The Explanatory Dictionary of the Romanian Language states that the concept of mentality represents a specific way of thinking of an individual or a group, while that of behaviour refers to a way of acting in specific circumstances or situations [1]. However, both mentalities and behaviours being the result of the interaction of the individual/ group with the environment, we believe that the socio-economic and political trends of the Romanian society had a big influence on the economic mentalities and behaviours, especially in that part of society which was subject to the direct impact of the changes determined by the historical evolution.

The economic activity – one of the many human activities – takes place in the framework of a society. Individuals are born and develop their personalities in an already defined social environment. From this point of view, society influences us, by shaping ideas, convictions and habits and by inducing a specific behaviour. This behaviour becomes a permanent personality trait and, at the same time, it determines a particular mental representation of reality. As a result, the behaviour of economic agents become – to a great extent – a reflection of the environment in which they live and carry out their activity.

The specific conditions and historical environment in which the Romanians lived and carried out their everyday activities have undoubtedly influenced their options, their way of thinking and acting, their life philosophy, their value systems and of course their economic behaviours and mentalities.

Specialty literature in the field of economic theory and history highlights the fact that Europe, in general and Western Europe in particular, represents that part of the world which from the 16th to the 20th century experienced the most dynamic economic evolution and growth and which was to a great extent responsible for the creation of the modern world economy [2]. And one of the characteristics of the new type of economic order established in western European after the 16th century is gradual, but sustainable growth [2]. In addition, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the scientific revolution represented an essential element in the complex process of changing the mentalities and the perceptions on the economic progress, the interest in the economic system and its power of changing the society. All this is accompanied by a sometimes ignored feature of the western world during that epoch, namely the fact that the development was intrinsically connected to innovation, experimentation, risk and creativity, named by some authors “the creative-innovative and experimentation process”, or in short “the creative process” [3]. This term does not refer only to the technical field, but also to the institutional and organisational ones.

All these changes which marked the evolution of the West during the above mentioned centuries were due to a large extent to the appearance of a new behavioural pattern generically called bourgeois or of the bourgeoisie, which expressed a new attitude, most often called bourgeois spirit or entrepreneurial spirit [4]. The bourgeois spirit, understood as attitudes towards money, goods, trade, capital movement and accumulation becomes the main instrument in inducing and developing a new economically-oriented behaviour.

Mihail Manoilescu clearly defines the difference between the capitalist spirit and capitalism itself in his argumentation, in full agreement with Werner Sombart’s opinions. “At the beginning”, says Manoilescu, “the capitalist spirit is the one which gives birth to capitalism, of course in a generally favourable environment and in the framework of specific preexistent socio-economic conditions; later, capitalism is the one which gives birth and sustains the capitalist spirit for every individual” [5].

Economic Mentalities – Cause or Effect for Today’s Values in Romanian Business… 293 During its evolution, capitalism usually goes through three development stages, dominated in turns by the commercial, industrial and financial capital. In one of his works [6], Ştefan Zeletin stated that “The three evolution stages of capitalism have their own characteristics, this is why it is not possible to understand the development of one stage by analysing the characteristics of another one, each must be analysed separately and understood according to its special features” [7]. In addition, he says, “The bourgeoisie is like a plant, whose roots start from trade relations and whose branches spread out in a free social environment” [8].

In his turn, Mihail Manoilescu defines the bourgeoisie as “an almost millenary social class whose main function is to organise work and production (first manufacturing and then other types of production) based on the possession of its instruments” [9]. He also considers that the bourgeois spirit “consists of the strong wish to be an entrepreneur, to earn, and of a series of minor but useful virtues which ensure the individual’s accession to and development in the bourgeois world” [10]. In addition, he makes a clear distinction between the genuine and the pseudo-bourgeois people. In the first category he includes the important industrialists and merchants, the big bankers and rural owners – the latter only if they are “real heads of agricultural enterprises”. In the second category he includes the engineers, the economists, the teachers, the judges, the clerks and the professional peopleM[11]. On the historical evolution of the bourgeoisie, he maliciously states that his contemporaries were not able to make the difference between the real bourgeois element and the capitalist and liberal element. “I have shown” – he mentions – “that the confusion between bourgeoisie, capitalism and liberalism is a common one, even in the case of the greatest researchers of the world. But this confusion takes catastrophic proportions in the works of Romanian authors” – the allusion being to Ştefan Zeletin, with whom Mihail Manoilescu had a long dispute during the interwar period [12].

Of course, we cannot ignore the opinions of Gheorghe Zane [13], according to whom the freedom of trade and the extension of its area represented the point of departure for the modernisation of the Romanian economic system, the shaping of the political and institutional structures being the effect of the economic changes.


Going from the field of the theory of economic history to those of historical realities, we can state that at the beginning of the 19th century the dominant feature of the Romanian environment was an obvious political instability evident both in the larger geographic environment and within the national context. All this determined the insecurity of life and wealth, limited the economic initiative and the accumulation of capital. The 1828-1829 Russian-Turkish war ended in September 1829 with the Peace of Adrianople, had an important long-term impact on the Romanian Principalities, by reconfiguring their relations with the Ottoman Empire. The liberalisation of external trade, the retrocession of the Danube ports, the free navigation and trade on the Black Sea led to the creation of permissive conditions which allowed a greater access of part of the Romanian society to the trade processes of that epoch. During that period “we can speak about the take off of the trade movement in the Romanian principalities. Not only because there was a real separation from the umbilical cord that tied it to the Turkish monopoly, but also because changes took place on a new 294 Maria MURESAN, Mariana NICOLAE scale, the structure of the exported goods was modified and an infrastructure of trade was created, which determined new changes in the field” [14].

Numerous structural modifications of the economic and social life appeared soon. The liberalisation of external trade led to the appearance of the business interest in cultivating large lands and in selling Romanian products and, last but not least, to a more obvious expression of the economic and political interest of the West in this part of the European continent [15]. The rapid growth of trade activities in the ports of Brăila and Gala i, especially after the establishment of the free port regime, is significant in this respect.

Influenced by the experiences, the trends and the models of the West, the Romanian economic life starts evolving in all its aspects. It still lacked the foundation of the capitalist world, namely the individual and contractual freedom, as well as the absolute private property. The adoption of the Rural Law in 1864 will correct this drawback only partly and extremely slowly. The implementation of the Rural Law leads in time to a complex reforming process which will continue for approximately half a century. It also generates a series of problems determined by its provisions, as well as by the habits of the rural life at that time. One of these problems is related to the incomplete use of the workforce, a phenomenon which is caused by the exaggeratedly high number of religious and official holidays or by the seasonal character of the agricultural labour. According to the calculations and estimations of Dionisie Pop Mar ian around mid-19th century the annual average number of days worked in an individual agricultural field was of 115 [16].

The second observation is that during the entire 19th century the Romanian economy was dominated by a strong rural feature. The rural environment protects its moral and cultural values as well as its own speed of acting, thinking and becoming, having a distorted perception on the movement and the rhythms of the economic system. The entrepreneurial spirit, however not the bourgeois one, was represented in the 19th century Romanian rural environment by the tenant and the middleman.

Urbanisation was a slow and difficult process. At least in the first part of the 19th century, the Romanian town was generically represented by the central authority, respectively “the prince” and the high offices, respectively the state institutions. The urban trades served the few existing urban citizens. The agricultural field fulfilled its needs for agricultural tools or semi-processing of agricultural produce through its own workshops where mainly peasants worked during the extra seasonal period. And the village household met its necessities in the framework of the family, by producing hand made goods. What was obviously missing was the commodity market for handicraft or industrial goods.

By the mid-19th century, the Romanian Principalities had 3,865 thousand inhabitants, from which 17.2% in the urban environment and 82.8 % in the rural one. At the end of the century the population had increased to 5,957 thousand inhabitants, but the proportions are almost the same, with an urban population of 18.8% and a rural one of 81.2% [17]. As a result, the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois spirit have an extremely limited area of activity, being to a large extent reserved for the elites and manifesting themselves in sui-generis forms. This is caused by the specificity of the Romanian society, as well as by the mix of influences coming from various cultures, which were interpreted and adopted differently in terms of coverage and depth.

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