on 25 May 2008
This book is like a six layer cake with as layers the periods 1000-1500, 1500 to 1650, 1650 to 1780, 1780 to 1814, 1914 to 1939, 1939 to 2007, and speculations about the future. Within each layer you find descriptions of what happened in seven regions that is Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa with Southwest Asia, Central or Inner Asia, South Asia, and South East Asia. For each region you find wars, rulers, economic development including trade. And, especially important, the interaction and interdependence between regions
This is about as holistic, systematic and complex presentation you can ever hope to find. By the way the development of North and South America is included in Western Europe and Africa as it relates to other regions. The book is an outstanding example of a multidisciplinary approach combining the science of history with the science of economics. The book is written by an Irish and American professor. You can see from the choice of regions that it is not a European centric presentation. Asia dominated with many regions in year 1000 at the start and is moving to domination in 2007.
You will learn about many examples of interconnectedness you did not know. For example the industrial revolution in the UK would never have happened as a consequence of steam power and mechanisation in cotton spinning and weaving, only.. It was dependent on a rapid increasing supply of low cost cotton that was produced to almost 100% by slave labour in the Americas, continuous land grabbing in the Americas, military control of the seas by the UK Navy to transport the cotton to the UK and transporting cotton cloth for export and an industrial policy of protection of the UK cotton industry from foreign competition in the UK. You will also find many examples of causes of unforeseeable change. Just as an example consider the rapid expansion of population and wealth during the Song dynasty in China. That was made possible by the introduction of a different type of rice from what is now Vietnam that allowed three harvests per year.
The book demonstrates conclusively that major changes in the fortunes of countries' history cannot be understood without economics and wars and the other way around. It is disappointing even frightening to see how personal greed and greed by nations has been the driving factor of most of the major changes Concern for the well-being of others as a driving force is almost totally absent.
That should be a lesson for the future. When the increasing interdependence between nations is combined with greed as the driving force disaster is likely to occur. A disaster that can as yet can not be identified. Governments were never able to predict disasters in time in the past. That means that it is imperative that country leaders have to change their mind - sets and consider the well-being of other countries next to their own. Anybody reading this book will become convinced that this is an absolute necessity.
on 30 April 2009
Ronald Findlay, a professor of economics at Columbia University and Kevin O'Rourke, a professor of economics at Trinity College, Dublin, have written a fine history of world trade since 1000. They pick out three events as world-historical - the Black Death, the opening of the New World, and the Industrial Revolution.
They describe Genghis Khan's unification of most of the Eurasian landmass. Plague then killed between 25 million and 80 million people in Europe in 1348-51. But the resulting labour shortage made wages rise between 1350 and 1500. By contrast, population growth, as in the 13th century, reduced wages.
The age of mercantilism, based on British industry, American agriculture and African slaves, lasted from 1650 to 1780. Empires struggled for control of the New World's resources, land and trade. The Americas provided elastic supplies of land; Africa provided elastic supplies of cheap labour. Britain, atypically, industrialised with free trade, but our industrialisation did not depend on the slave trade: in 1770, its profits were only 0.54% of Britain's national income.
The 1792-1815 wars ended mercantilism. The authors call 1780-1914 the great specialisation, when the West European empires deindustrialised India and China and forced them to supply cheap raw materials and labour. World War One ended the liberal economic order of the late 19th-century.
The authors call World War One `an exogenous shock to the international economic system' and the Great Depression `a second major shock'. But both resulted from capitalism. They call 1914-39 the era of deglobalisation and note, "tariffs were positively associated with growth across countries in the interwar period."
1939-2000 saw reglobalisation. The authors claim that the median developing country failed to grow between 1980 and 1999 `despite the trend toward greater openness' - but that is only if you wrongly assume that openness brings growth.
As they admit, "Simple monocausal relations between openness and growth are not supported by the data ... Growth depends on a wide range of variables other than exposure to trade". To grow, countries need to boost investment in equipment, R&D and education, and to employ a larger portion of the population in industry.
As a fully paid up member of the Economic History Addicts' Society, I endorse this book unreservedly for all who are similarly afflicted.
As to the root of the addiction, that's simple, and partly explained by the authors up front: in order to understand where we are, it's necessary to understand how we got here, and understanding where we are is an important part of knowing how and where to move on.
Nevertheless, there are some initially gratuitous-seeming pleasures involved in the journey, like the discovery that the events in Russia of 988 CE were more significant than those of 1917, for example. But then it sinks in that this is the point at which the people that would become the Russians were assimilated by the "civilised" world, a process we can trace forward to the present day and Dmitry Medvedev.
There are some fascinating tales related to the development of trade and society at the turn of the first millennium CE, though it's odd that in an account encompassing the merry-go-round of faiths the authors themselves use the Christian appellation AD - whose "lord" are they referring to?
As we enter into the main body of the work we also get into illusion-shattering territory. There are a number of things that come up here that as a child in the UK education system of the sixties I either wasn't told or was told differently. For example, History lessons in the sixties portrayed Robert Clive, Clive of India, as an unequivocal hero; the reality it appears is more nuanced and dependent on your point of view, and I don't remember anybody mentioning that he met his end through suicide in the wake of a corporate scandal. History, as any wag will tell you, isn't what it used to be.
Much of the text is taken up in demonstrating the appropriateness of the hendiadys of the title: that there can be no Plenty without Power, and vice versa. In Great Britain they argue that there existed in the 19th Century a social contract whereby political freedoms were exchanged for higher taxes than would be tolerated by a disenfranchised citizenry. This enabled maintenance of an enormous "naval industrial complex", an expression revising Eisenhower's observation of the US in the fifties. This in turn enabled protection of existing markets, and the ability literally to break into new, overseas markets essential to fuel ongoing growth of the then nascent Industrial Revolution. In summing up the prevailing mercantilism of the time they quote the words of Jan Pieterzoon Coen: "We cannot make war without trade or trade without war".
In order to assemble their account the authors, as may be expected, have drawn upon a constellation of star sources in order to deliver sometimes a confirmation of one's existing world history view, sometimes a revision of that view, and incredibly often, and most excitingly, to insert a whole new narrative.
Examples, according to personal preference:
Towards the end of the book they analyse the inter-war conditions leading up to and causing WWII, and provide confirmation of my own view that the major factors were economic, as opposed to racially based, as contended by Niall Ferguson in War Of The World (an excellent book, notwithstanding).
In their account of the voyages of discovery they point out that as important, if not more so, as Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492 was the completion early in the same year as the Spanish Reconquista with the fall of Muslim Granada, the contract for which is commemorated in the city of the Reconquista itself, Granada, in the Plaza Isabel la Catolica, at the end of Gran Via de Colon. The suggestion here is that without the Reconquista either Columbus would not have gone, or he would have gone under the sponsorship of Portugal, or maybe Venice.
Finally, something I felt I should have known but didn't, that Europeans introduced Japan to the firearms which were quickly adopted and ultimately, it is calculated, hastened the unification of the islands, culminating in the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600, which saw the consolidation of Japan's unity.
There are a number of interesting notes on origins, such as that of the word "muslin", and meanings (Genghis Khan, universal ruler), some excellent devices for making connections (Silver, Silk and Spices leading to Slavery and Sugar) and also some thought-provoking games of consequences (Napoleon's war-strained coffers requiring the sale of Louisiana to the United States) and what-ifs (what if Britain had not been such an aggressive expansionist? Answer, no Industrial Revolution!).
And although there are some puzzling omissions - no mention of the financial innovations supposedly brought to bear in building Henry VIII's navy, for example - it's easy to realise that you have to draw the line somewhere: enough is as good as a feast.
So, a nice mix of historiographic porn - interesting for its own sake - and lessons for how we can thrive, or fail, in the future.
on 19 December 2008
This is a book written by two of the best minds in academia. Unlike most books on the "history of ..." , written my amateur BBC ( or NYT) reporters, these guys are hard core academic economists. Kevin O'Rourke is, arguably, the brightest star in quantitative economic history (Cliometrics) currently working in academia. He is the co author of already classic Globalization and History (MIT, 1999) together with Jeffrey Williamson.
The current book describes the history of trade from the year 1000 up to the WWI. To accomplish this the authors do a very through effort to show all the immense influence of the "other" (non European) cultures (China, Islam, India, Africa) on the patterns of trade. This is of the utmost importance to counterbalance all the "rise of the west..." misconceptions and to use a historian term, anachronism (to view the past with current perspective) , that plagues amateurish narratives. Its important to recall that European (and its offshoots) preeminence is a very recent phenomenon.
Its not that the authors don't have their biases, as all authors do, which are very clear in the very first page of the book where there is a picture of glorious Albion holding a sword. Power to keep all those weird foreigners in their proper place and secure plenty to her dominions. God Save the Queen!
In any case, despite the amount of detail distilled on the 800 pages of the book, you can count on the writing craftsmanship of the authors , which have managed to produce a very readable account that is accessible to any intelligent (but determined) lay reader. The reward in the end is to dispel any politically correct motivation for trade as more have been accomplished by "the barrel of a Maxim gun, the edge of a scimitar, or the ferocity of a nomadic horseman."
Thinking of globalization as a new phenomenon or an inevitable one is all too easy. As scholars Ronald Findlay and Kevin O'Rourke explain in this thorough examination, globalization is neither new nor predictable. In fact, international trade has been a reality for more than 1,000 years and the story of global commerce is one of constant change. For centuries, nations have jockeyed for position, imposed rules and killed each other's citizens in the name of trade. This enlightening work rewards the reader with a depth of understanding and context. However, it would benefit from a more conversational, less academic tone. getAbstract recommends it to readers who want to see world economic affairs in a broader context and perspective.