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Trade: A History,
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This review is from: A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Has Shaped the World from Prehistory to the Present (Hardcover)The book is a fine primer in trade and the ideas of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and more recent economists, such as Paul Samuelson.
The entertaining and lively writing style of the author should not obscure the underlying strength of the book which rests on its analytical rigour and the way in which the author weaves in the theoretical and the practical.
The book is a timely reminder of the benefits accrued by trade in an era in which globalisation gets a bad press. People tend to focus on the undesirable effects such as the threat to the environment by the phenomenal growth of Chinese manufacturing exports, the outsourcing by corporations and the re-emergence of inflation as oil and food prices soar. At the same time they underplay the benefits such as the boost to Western living standards from inexpensive Chinese goods and the lifting of literally hundreds of millions of Asians above poverty level.
We follow the author as he unfolds his story to show how trade evolved and shaped the world. The story begins with Sumerian farmers in the third millenium BC who bartered grain surpluses generated in the Mesopotamian fertile crescent for copper obtained from Sinai several hundred miles to the West to make weapons to repel nomadic raiders.
The author discusses the Peloponessian war between Athens and Sparta to highlight the wider point about the importance and vulnerability of sea-lanes.
The story continues with the rise and fall of Venice and Genoa, the devastation caused by the Black Death, the Portuguese-led age of discovery, the establishment of the Dutch and British East India trading companies, the golden period of the late 19th century in which trade flourished under the British empire and the 20th century's descent into protectionism.
The author emphasizes the role of technology in promoting trade, especially the advent of steam and refrigeration.
Finally the author articulates the fringe benefits derived from trade such as exchanges of art, science and ideas and in promoting understanding among peoples in different lands.