In the second half of XVIII century Russia occupied a territory of 17, 4 million sq. km. According to the information of the 5th census (1795), the population made up 37,4 million persons. The nobility totaled 726 thousand people, clergy - 220 thousand, the merchant and lower-middle class - 1,5 million; the basic number was formed by the peasants - 32,6 million (almost 90 %).
In spite of that the majority of the population lived in countryside, the number of towns remarkably grew in the second half of XVIII century. In 1785 216 new towns appeared. The state often redeemed villages from landowners and made them towns.
The internal reforms, the active foreign policy and maintenance of the court required enormous expenses that were not covered by public revenues. The deficiency of the state budget by the end of Catherine's II reign exceeded 200 million rubles. The disorder in the finances reflected the exhaustion of internal resources of the serf system. Concentrated exploitation of the salt and wine regalia (the income from alcohol in the second half of XVIII century doubled), increasing of the tribute from state peasants (from 40 kopecks in 1860 up to 3 rubles in 1890) no more gave expected results.
Similar to the government, noblemen - land owners searched for a way out of economic troubles through the exploitation of peasantry. This tendency was shown both in the increasing of the feudal rent and its changing according to regional particularities. Thus, in the non-chernozem zone the greatest stability was found out by the labour-rent system characterized by a steady growth of the quitrent: in the 60-s of XVIII century the peasants paid landowners about 2 rubles apiece, in the 90-s the rent was already 7 rubles a year.
Exploitation of corvee peasants surpassed approximately twice as much that of labour-rent peasants and was measured in money terms: 7-8 rubles in the 60-s and 14-16 rubles in 90-s of XVIII century. In some places at the close of the century corvee reached 5 days a year. The return of landowners in the black earth zone to the previous form of feudal rent, connected with expansion of lords' arable land, was caused by the aspiration of landowners to increase their incomes owing to market entry. Inclusion of the landlord economy into the commodity production for the peasants turned into loss of any connection with the market, the isolation within the medieval natural system.
The development of agriculture grew far more rapid that that of agriculture. At the close of XVIII century in Russia operated 167 mining plants for 80 thousand workers, and 1094 manufacturing plants for 82 thousand workers. In the last quarter of XVIII century the significance of metallurgy of Ural and the Central zone, especially of the old Russian Tula-Kaluga metallurgical center, partly decreased.
At the same time the manufacturing industry went through the rise. At the close of XVIII century its leading branches worked not only for the internal but also for the foreign market. The important stimulus for the industrial entrepreneurship were the privileges given to the merchant class in 1766: exemption of merchants from military service and replacement of it by the fixed cash contribution (in the beginning 360 rubles, later 500 rubles); declaration of freedom of entrepreneurship in 1775 allowing merchants to buy enterprises without consultation with official bodies and exempting from taxes for every mill.
The significant feature of the development of main branches of the manufacturing industry, and first of all of textile industry, was still increasing application of civilian labour. The number of civilian workers in the second half of XVIII century grew from 17,8 thousand up to 33,6 thousand people. This labour force already played a defining role in the cotton, tanning, haberdashery and glass branches, which developed due to the merchant capital. At the same time, forced labour prevailed in the linen and cloth industry where active nobleman's business.
The process of decomposition of the serf system and parallel formation of bourgeois ties were expressed in the increasing inclusion of landowners' and some peasants' economies in the commodity-money relations. The indicator of marketability of the agriculture in the second half of XVIII century was the increasing volume of bread sale reaching 10 % of clear and 7 % total yield. Trade of bread inside the country was realized by direct trading by peasants and landowners and by buying-up of peasants' bread by merchants. In 1860 - 1880-es of XVIII century appeared the known harmony of bread price-levels in different areas of the country, which meant formation of the All-Russia bread market. Russian bread was exported to 12 countries, and in the second half of XVIII century the export increased in 11,5 times.Profitable trade and crafts contributed to the growth of the layer of so-called "capitalist peasants", including among serfs.
The trade turnover in which were involved prosperous peasants, merchants and landowners, was carried out through a network of markets and fairs. Moscow and St. Petersburg still played the leading role in the All-Russia market. In foreign trade of Russia dominated contacts with England that needed Russian raw materials. The trade turnover with Prussia, Sweden, France and China increased too. At the close of XVIII century Russia imported things sought after the commercial and industrial circles and the nobility: sugar, dyes, leather, wines, fruit, haberdashery, writing paper, faience and porcelain products. From the middle of XVIII century, when the Russian trade capital actively began to penetrate the Central Asian markets, eastern fabrics, yarn, cotton, precious metals and astrakhan fur appeared in Russia. The average yearly import of goods in the first half of the 90-es of XVIII century made up 27 886 thousand rubles. In the atmosphere of decomposition of the serf economy Russia was more and more involved in the world market.