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Arbitristas, a diverse group of seventeenth-century peninsular and Creole innovators who propounded ideas aimed at the reform of the political, social, and economic life of Spain and the Indies. They included some serious economic and political thinkers, inventors of useless gadgets, and even a few charlatans (e.g., alchemists).

These arbitristas, who usually shared a common faith in empiricism, compiled detailed information on each problem before devising a solution, however impractical. They had no common ideology or program and most often attempted to repair existing institutions. Given the hierarchical political system in the Spanish Empire during the seventeenth century, they looked to the existing political leadership to sponsor their projects. In Spain, the arbitristas tended to flock around the chief minister of King Philip IV, the Conde-Duque de Olivares. Arbitristas in the Indies usually sought the patronage of the viceroy and turned their attention to pressing colonial problems: American Indian relations, the output of precious metals, corruption, fiscal innovations, and moral rejuvenation.

See alsoOlivares, Conde-Duque de .


An excellent survey of the arbitristas in Spain is J. H. Elliott, "Self-perception and Decline in Early Modern Spain," Past and Present 74 (1977): 41-61. For the arbitristas in the Indies see Fred Bronner, "Peruvian Arbitristas Under Viceroy Chinchón, 1629–1639," Scripta Hierosolymitana 26 (1974): 34-77.

Additional Bibliography

Perdices Blas, Luis. La economía política de la decadencia de Castilla en el siglo XVII: Investigaciones de los arbitristas sobre la naturaleza y causas de la riqueza de las naciones. Madrid: Síntesis, 1996.

                                         Kenneth J. Andrien