Byzantine Empire, Bosporus, Silk Road, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Tea Act and Opium Wars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 11th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published May 15th, 2012)

To encourage Risk Takers to Travel Halfway around the World Mercantile States granted Monopoly Charters

The modern world began because Europeans had a penchant for silk and spices.  Something they enjoyed during Roman times.  When the Romans ruled the world.  And the Mediterranean Sea was nothing more than a Roman lake.  But when the empire stopped conquering new lands and sending the spoils of war home they had to turn to other means to pay for the cost of empire.  Taxes.  To pay for the Roman government and their public spending.  And the Roman legions.  This excessive government spending led to the fall of the western half of the empire.  But the eastern half lived on for another 1,000 years or so.  Why?  Because the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople.  On the Bosporus.  Trade crossroads of the world.

This city was so rich everybody wanted to conquer it.  So they could have all those riches.  For everything that came along the Silk Road from China crossed into Europe at the Bosporus.  Soon Muslims fought Christians in the Holy lands.  Then more Christians came.  The Crusaders.  Those who didn’t die went back to Europe with some of those Chinese luxuries.  Spices.  Silk.  Porcelain.  Etc.  Sparking a renewed interest in these finer things in Europe.  Especially the spices.  For European cooking was horribly bland at the time.  The Ottoman Turks eventually took Constantinople.  Renamed it Istanbul.  And controlled that lucrative trade.  Making those much sought after Asian goods rather expensive in Europe.  Which they had no choice but to pay.  Because if you wanted those luxuries you had to go through Istanbul.  Until the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a direct route to those cherished goods, that is.

It was the Commercial Revolution.  A new age of international trade.  A trade even more profitable than what the Ottoman Turks controlled.  Because big ocean-going vessels can carry more cargo than anything coming over land on the Silk Road.  And these new European maritime powers wanted that wealth.  And the power it would provide.  To encourage risk takers to get into those wooden ships and travel halfway around the world they granted monopoly charters.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was one of the largest.  And one of the wealthiest.  But this was not your typical company.  The VOC established overseas colonies.  It waged war.  Established treaties.  Even coined its own money.  Because of this thousands of VOC ships stuffed full of valuable cargoes sailed to Antwerp and Amsterdam, making the Dutch very wealthy.  And powerful.

The Tea Act allowed the Company to Ship their Tea Directly to America and exempted them from any Duties

Of course the Dutch weren’t the only ones doing this.  They had competition.  Portugal.  Spain.  France.  And England.  Who would bump into each other numerous times fighting for control of this trade.  And those colonies.  The English and the Dutch would fight 4 wars.  Which is how Dutch-founded Manhattan became part of the British Empire and, subsequently, one of America’s greatest cities.  The English East India Company gave the VOC a run for its money.  Parliament even passed legislation to give the English a monopoly on all trade with their American colonies.  The Navigation Acts.  Which stated that all trade to and from America had to be on English ships.  And all trade had to go through an English port.  Where the ships were unloaded and the cargoes inspected.  And taxed.  Then they could reload their cargoes and continue on their journey.  All tenets of mercantilism.  This kept the lower-priced Dutch goods out of America.  And prevented the Americans from selling to the Dutch directly for higher prices.  So it shut down the Dutch from all American trade (except for a prosperous black market). And brought in some lucrative tax revenue for England.  While extending shipping times and increasing prices for the Americans.  Which they were not happy about in the least.

The English East India Company (the Company) was similar in structure to the VOC.  And soon made the Indian subcontinent a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Waging war was costly.  As was managing those conquered territories (something the Romans had also learned).  Then a famine in Bengal in 1770 claimed about one-third of the local population.  Making laborers more scarce.  And more expensive.  All at a time when the sales of their imported goods were falling in Europe.  There were warehouses full of unsold Chinese tea that they couldn’t sell.  Making for a bad time for the Company.

Higher costs and lower sales spelled trouble.  And that’s what the Company had a lot of.  Trouble.  So the Company turned to Parliament for help.  And Parliament helped.  By allowing the Company to ship their tea directly to America without having to unload it in a British port.  Or pay a duty on that tea.  Which would greatly reduce their costs.  And allow them to sell it in America cheaper than they did before.  So Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773.  Making life better for all involved.  But the Tea Act left in place another tax in the previous Townshend Acts.  Which was a bigger problem than getting cheaper tea (which they could get on the black market from the Dutch).  These taxes on the British subjects in America were unconstitutional.  Because there were no Americans sitting in Parliament.  This was taxation without representation.  A much bigger issue than cheap tea.  So they threw that first ‘cheap’ tea into Boston Harbor.  The Boston Tea Party being a major step towards war with the mother country.  And American independence.

Britain became the Lone Superpower after Abandoning their Protectionist Mercantile Policies and Adopting Free Trade

The American Revolutionary War was not the only headache the British got from their mercantile policies.  Part of those policies required maintaining a positive balance of trade.  So there was always a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  That’s why raw materials shipped into Britain from America.  And finished goods shipped out to America.  Finished goods are more valuable than raw materials.  So the Americans had to make up for this balance of trade in bullion.  Resulting in a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  Very simple.  As long as you can manufacture higher valued goods that other people want to buy.

And this is the problem they ran into with the Chinese.  For though the British wanted those Chinese spices, silk and porcelain the Chinese didn’t want anything the British manufactured.  Which meant Britain had to pay for those luxuries with bullion.  Including all that Chinese tea they craved.  Which resulted in a net outflow of bullion to the Chinese.  The British fixed this problem by finding the one thing that the Chinese people wanted.  Indian opium.  Grown in Bengal.  Of course, this turned a lot of Chinese into opium addicts.  The addiction problem was so bad that the Chinese banned opium.  But the British were able to smuggle it in.  They sold so much of it that they used the proceeds to buy their tea.  Thus reversing the bullion flow.

Not the finest hour in the British Empire.  The Chinese and the British would go on to fight a couple of wars over this opium trade.  The Opium Wars.  Which the British did all right in.  Even gaining Hong Kong in the bargain.  They didn’t build any long-lasting love with the Chinese people.  But Hong Kong turned out pretty nice under the British.  Especially after they abandoned their protectionist mercantile policies and adopted free trade.  Which made the British the lone superpower for about a century as they modernized the world by leading the way in the Industrial Revolution.  And the Chinese in Hong Kong were very happy indeed to be there when the communists took over the mainland.  And caused a famine or two.  For they lived comfortably.  In a state founded on mercantilism.  That achieved its greatest prosperity during the free trade of capitalism that followed Britain’s mercantile ways.

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Trade, Colonization, South Africa and Apartheid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2013

History 101

Alexander Spread the Advanced Greek Civilization from the Mediterranean to the Indus River Valley

The first civilizations grew up on the great rivers.  The Nile.  The Tigris and Euphrates.  The Indus.  And the Yangtze.  For the river was the source of life.  The flooding of its banks produced the rich black earth that gave us farming.  They helped us irrigate land further from the banks.  And they allowed the spread of civilizations.  For these rivers provided our first means of transporting people and cargo.  Allowing food and goods to travel between settlements.  This cross-pollination of settlements of different people and resources flowered into the great civilizations of the world.

The Chinese civilizations along the Yangtze grew in isolation from the rest of the world due to the geography at first.  Then, later, by choice.  The other three great civilizations came into contact with each other.  The Egyptians on the Nile spread east and made contact with the Sumerians of the Tigris and Euphrates.  Who were in contact with the Harappan of the Indus River valley.  These civilizations traded with each other.  And fought with each other.  As their civilizations flourished they attracted the attention of envious neighbors.  Who wanted what they had.  And conquered them.

Wars pushed boundaries back and forth.  Civilizations rose and fell.  One of the last great empires of the ancient world, the Persian Empire, bumped into a new rising power.  Athens.  Which was conquered by a Greek-trained king from the north in Macedonia.  Whose son, Alexander, went on to conquer the known world.  Spreading the advanced Greek civilization from the Mediterranean world to the Indus River valley.  Creating a Greek-speaking world steeped in science and philosophy.  Creating a greater Hellenistic civilization out of the lands Alexander conquered.  The shared Greek culture allowing an explosion of trade and commerce.

In Time the English and the Dutch would Bump Heads in South Africa

The Romans adopted Greek knowledge and used it for great engineering projects.  Roads, aqueducts, ships, weapons of war, etc.  Soon the Roman Empire displaced the Hellenistic civilization and spread even further.  Ironically, it was the cost of empire that began the fall of the Roman Empire.  High taxes to fund a huge army on the frontier and to pay for a massive bureaucratic state.  Including welfare programs.  The empire first collapsed in the West.  It lasted another 1,000 years in the East as the Byzantine Empire.  With its capital in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).  Named by the Roman Empire Constantine the Great.  Who helped turned the Roman Empire Christian.

Constantinople was the center of the world.  It was where East met West.  Where Europe met Asia.  All trade from the East went through Constantinople on its way to the West.  For the Silk Road passed through Constantinople.  Making it a very rich city.  As it controlled trade.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the great Italian city-states rose.  Venice, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Siena, Lucca and Cremona.  With their merchant banking they controlled the Mediterranean trade.  Until the Muslims conquered Constantinople.  Which is when the center of economic power moved north to Europe.  Thanks to advances in navigation that allowed ships to sail around Africa to the East.  Bypassing the Muslim-held Constantinople.

It was the Age of Discovery.  And the great European powers discovered new lands full of valuable resources.  The Portuguese and the Spanish lead the way.  And were soon followed by the Dutch.  And the English.  These nations established colonies around the world.  And, in time, the English and the Dutch would bump heads in South Africa.  Where they discovered gold.  Leading to a century of conflict between the British Empire and the Dutch settlers.  Known as Boers.  During the Napoleonic Wars the British defeated the Boers in Cape Colony in 1806.  And officially took possession of the colony in 1814.  Then it was Britain’s turn to send settlers to the region.  As a prosperous colony at the southern tip of Africa would come in handy for the empire that controlled the trade routes with the most powerful navy in the world.

Mandela Languished in Jail in part because of his Being a Communist

The Boers resented British rule.  And they didn’t like their abolishing slavery.  So they moved north.  Establishing two Boer independent republics.  The discovery of diamonds and more gold would make the region the richest and most powerful in southern Africa.  There was only one problem.  They didn’t have the manpower.  Or an industrial base.  Which led to another wave of immigration.  Mostly from Britain.  Which soon outnumbered the Boers.  Tensions led to the two Boer Wars.  The second one being the longest, costliest and bloodiest war the British fought in the century following the Napoleonic Wars.  With the British ultimately winning the African territories from the Boers in 1902.

The contested areas were all absorbed into the British Empire in 1910 as the Union of South Africa.  And became independent of the British Empire in 1931.  As the foreign powers fought over the African lands they pushed aside the native blacks.  And segregated them.  In 1948 the National Party rose to power.  And began to make segregation law.  The official beginning of apartheid.  Where the whites lived in a first-world nation (which they built with their capital along with black labor).  While the blacks lived in third-world conditions.  The African National Congress (ANC) fought apartheid.  Which was good.  But the ANC was a communist organization during the height of the Cold War.  Which did not make it a friend of the Western World.  Nor was Nelson Mandela.  Who was a communist.  Mandela co-founded the militant wing of the ANC in 1961.  Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).  Which planned a campaign of sabotage against the apartheid government.  Landing Mandela in jail for 27 years.

Mandela languished in jail in part because of his being a communist.  For they didn’t want what happened in Southern Rhodesia to happen in South Africa.  Alignment with the Soviet Union.  And bloody civil war.  This is what they feared if the ANC/MK rose to power under the charismatic Mandela.  Civil war in South Africa fueled by the Soviet Union to aid in their war with the West.  As it turned out, though, Mandela was more like Abraham Lincoln when he emerged from jail.  Who told his generals that once the American Civil War was over there was to be no reprisals or retaliation against the South.  For once the war was over they would move on together as Americans.  Both North and South.  Which made the peace that followed much easier on the South.  Allowing the nation to heal her wounds more quickly than if there had been a period of bloody purges and reprisals.  And this is the gift Mandela gave to South Africa.  Allowing the nation to move forward after apartheid without bloody purges or reprisals.  Which is why South Africa went on to become one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies.  While another former member of the British Empire in Africa, Southern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), suffers corruption, poverty, human rights abuses and one of the lowest life expectancy in the world.  Because Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation when released from prison.  Not vengeance.  Like they did in Zimbabwe.

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Constantinople, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, the New World, Tobacco and Slavery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2013

History 101

With the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Islam spread Unchecked into Christian Lands

Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to a place on the Bosporus.  Where the ancient city of Byzantium once sat.  Where Asia met Europe.  Where the Mediterranean Sea met the Black Sea.  And the great rivers beyond.  The Danube.  Dnieper.  And the Don.  Constantine named his new city Constantinople.  And made it a jewel.  With great Christian churches.  To celebrate his new conversion to Christianity.  Which started following the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.  Where on the eve of battle Constantine and his soldiers had a vision of the Christian God.  Promising them victory if they placed His symbol on their shields.  Which they did.  And they won.

Constantine spared no expense in his new city.  Which was easy to do because it was a very wealthy city.  For the greatest trade routes went through the Bosporus.  Which is why when the western half of the Roman Empire fell the eastern half, or the Byzantine Empire, carried on for another thousand years.  Give or take.  As it thrived on that trade pouring through it.  Especially from the Far East.  Along the Silk Road.  Which peaked during the Byzantine Empire.  Bringing the exotic goods of the Far East west.  From silk to porcelain to spices.  Which flowed unhindered to Christian Europe while the Christians still controlled the Byzantine Empire.

But all good things must come to an end.  Thanks to the Seljuk Turks.  And the rise of the Ottoman Empire.  Islam had united the Arab people.  And with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Islam spread unchecked into Christian lands.  Up through the Balkans into southern Europe.  Lands they would contest for time and again.  Making for some bitter Christian-Muslim animosity that continues into modern times.  But more crucially at the time was the loss of control over that trade from the Far East.  Making those goods not as reasonably priced as they once were.  Which proved to be quite the problem.  As the European Christians had grown quite fond of them.  Luckily for them, they could do something about that.  Thanks to all of those wars they fought with the Muslims.  The Crusades.  Which brought back a lot of Greek books of science that were collecting dust in some of the old great Greek cities all around the Mediterranean.  Founded during the Hellenistic period.  Which came before the Roman Empire.  Thanks to a fellow by the name of Alexander the Great.  Who spread Greek learning throughout the known world after he conquered it.

Christopher Columbus sailed West to establish Far East Trade without going through Muslim-Controlled Constantinople

From those books the Europeans were able to become better sailors.  On ships that could catch the wind and navigate their way great distances.  Portugal and Spain led the way.  Prince Henry (1394-1460), the Navigator, trained navigators in Portugal.  His students pushed further and further down the African coast until Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1486).  Vasco de Gama would round the Cape of Good Hope and sail up the eastern coast of Africa all the way to India (1498).  Pedro Álvares Cabral was heading south to round the Cape of Good Hope in (1500).  Swung out too far west.  And ran into Brazil in South America.

Spain then financed the voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Who had read that the earth was round.  And wanted to prove it.  As well as spread Christianity.  Columbus wanted to find a way west to the Far East.  Sure it was just beyond the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.  After a voyage longer than his near mutinous crew expected they finally landed on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas (1492).  Thinking he found an ocean passage to the Far East.  Around the Muslim controlled land route.  He would later understand that he had found the New World.  Which we would be calling Columbia.  Had his dispatches beat a Florentine passenger’s on a Portuguese ship who wrote about what he saw.  Amerigo Vespucci.  Which is why there is not a North Columbia, a Central Columbia and a South Columbia.  Instead, there is a North America, a Central America and a South America.

With Columbus’ success Spain financed others.  Vasco Núñez Balboa.  Who crossed the Isthmus of Panama and reached the Pacific Ocean (1513).  Ferdinand Magellan.  Who sailed around South America through the Straits of Magellan and into the Pacific Ocean.  Sailing on to the Far East.  And back home.  Being the first to circumnavigate the globe (1519-1522).  Hernán Cortés.  Who conquered the brutal Aztec regime in Mexico (1521).  Eventually the Spanish would bring great riches of gold and silver back to the Old World.  Meanwhile France financed Jacques Cartier in his attempt to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific.  Who sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal (1534).  Then Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec (1608).  Where they established a lucrative fur trade with the native Indians.

Cultivating Tobacco took Large Tracts of Farmland which required more Laborers that they had in the Colonies

Queen Elizabeth of England financed Walter Raleigh.  Who explored the coast of North America (1584).  Looking for a place to settle a colony.  On a subsequent voyage he brought 100 settlers with him.  And settled a colony at Roanoke, North Carolina (1585).  Which became the Lost Colony of Roanoke (1591).  The Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company, would have better luck.  They raised financing by selling stock shares to investors who would share in any profits of the colony.  Christopher Newport led a voyage that established the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  At Jamestown (1607).

Though the Americas were not the Far East it was a vast landmass with inexhaustible resources.  And endless tracts of fertile soil.  The possibilities were endless.  The marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas (1614) provided an uneasy peace between the settlers and their Indian neighbors.  Then Rolfe figured out how to cure tobacco (1612).  Something the English began smoking after Columbus observed the Cubans sticking burning rolls of tobacco in a nostril.  The English refined smoking with a pipe.  And they really enjoyed it.  Importing vast quantities from the Spanish colonies in America.  Thanks to Rolfe, though, the English could produce their own tobacco.  Once they worked out a few problems.

Cultivating tobacco took large tracts of farmland.  But to put large tracts of farmland into production you needed laborers.  And in 1612 Virginia there just weren’t a lot of colonists living there yet.  The demand for labor far outstripped the supply.  So they tried to satisfy that demand with indentured servants.  Preferably from Europe.  Even criminals from English jails.  As well as from Africa.  Who worked in bondage during their indentures.  Then went free.  Until around the 1660s.  When things changed.  Starting in the southern colonies.  Where slavery became hereditary.  For Africans, at least.  Like it was in the Old World.  Where peasants and serfs were bonded to the land.  Once a slave.  Always a slave.  And if your parent was a slave so were you.  Like it was in ancient Athens.  At the end of the Western Roman Empire.  And in the Muslim world.

Muslim didn’t only enslave Christians.  They also established slave markets with African slave traders.  Who opened their markets to the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French and the English.  To help them meet that soaring demand for labor during the early days of the New World colonies.  When there were so few colonists.  Who found their way to the New World in the first place because of the Muslim conquest of Constantinople.  Which sent the Europeans to the seas to find a western way to the Far East.  And when they did they discovered the New World.  Creating the largest market ever for African slaves.  And the greatest convulsions in the New World as they struggled to end slavery in the Americas.

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Coin Debasement, Currency Inflation and the Loss of Purchasing Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2013

History 101

The Roman Citizens welcomed the Barbarian Invaders as Liberators from the Oppressive Roman Regime

The Roman Empire pushed its borders out for centuries.  And when they did their legions conquered new territories.  And other civilizations.  Allowing them to send a lot of spoils back to Rome.  Providing the necessary funds for the empire.  With this lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome they could leave the economy alone.  And did.  Economic activity was pretty much laissez-faire.  Then something happened.  The Romans had conquered pretty much all of the known civilized world.  And they stopped pushing their borders out.  Putting an end to that lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome.

This created a problem.  For the empire was never larger.  With a greater border to protect than ever before.  And more territory to administer.  Which meant more soldiers.  And more civil servants.  Neither of which worked for free.  Which changed how the Romans handled the private sector economy.  They began to tax and regulate the hell out of it.  To raise the funds to pay the costs of empire.

Things got so bad that some people just started disappearing.  So the Romans introduced something that would evolve into European feudalism.  They forbade people from leaving their jobs.  Ever.  They even forbade the children from leaving their father’s profession.  While they were doing this they were debasing their coins.  The gold a little.  As it paid the soldiers and the civil servants.  And the silver a lot.  The money of the common people.  Who weren’t as important as the soldiers and the civil servants.  Until their silver was nothing but worthless slugs.  Causing prices to soar.  And the economy to collapse back into the barter system.  Hastening the fall of the Roman Empire.  As the Roman citizens welcomed the barbarian invaders as liberators from the oppressive Roman regime.

The Spanish brought back so much Gold and Silver from the New World that it actually Depreciated the Money Supply

Europe met Asia on the Bosporus.  The straits that connected the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  And it was where the Silk Road brought the exotic goods of the Far East into Europe.  Which the Europeans just couldn’t get enough of.  Making the Mediterranean powers the dominant powers.  For they controlled this lucrative trade.  Until, that is, the European nations made better ships.  Ships that could cross oceans.  And were bigger than the ships that plied the Mediterranean.  So they could bypass the Mediterranean powers.  And sail directly to the Far East.  Fill their large holds with those goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  Getting rich and powerful.  And shifting the balance of power to these European nations.

But the Europeans just didn’t go east.  They also went west.  And bumped into the New World.  The Dutch, the French, the British, the Portuguese and the Spanish all had colonies in the New World.  It was the age of mercantilism.  Colonies sent raw materials to their mother country.  Who manufactured these raw materials into finished goods.  And shipped them from the mother country on the mother country’s ships through the mother country’s ports.  For the name of the game was balance of trade.  Which meant you imported lower-valued raw materials and you exported higher-valued finished goods.  And because the value of their exports was greater than the value of their imports there was also a net in-flow of gold and silver.  Which was what mercantilism was all about.  Trying to accumulate more gold and silver than your trading partners.

And the Spanish hit mercantile pay-dirt in the New World.  Gold and silver.  Lots of it.  So they loaded it up on their ships.  And sent it back to Spain.  Where it entered the European money supply.  And none too soon as the Europeans were cash-starved.  Because of all those exotic goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  While those in the Far East had no interest whatsoever in European goods.  Which meant that European gold and silver went to the Far East to pay for those exotic goods.  Leaving the Europeans starving for gold and silver.  But thanks to the New World, they were able to reverse that net outflow of gold and silver.  In fact, so much gold and silver arrived from the New World that it actually inflated the money supply.  Which actually devalued the currency.  And because the currency lost purchasing power prices rose.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.

President Andrew Jackson joined the Hard-Money People and refused to renew the Charter of the BUS

Responsible nations have chosen gold and silver as their currency as it is difficult to increase the money supply and cause inflation.  Because mining these precious metals, refining them and minting coins is very costly.  Unless you discovered a New World with gold and silver paving the streets.  But that didn’t happen every day.  The irresponsible government, though, figured out a way to make that happen every day.  By just getting rid of the responsible gold and silver.  And replacing it with paper notes.  Fiat money.

Fiat money dates back to 11th century China.  To the Song Dynasty.  Which allowed the government to spend more money than their taxes raised.  Especially during war time.  But printing money devalued the currency.  And when you make the currency worth less it takes more of it to buy the things it once did.  Reducing purchasing power.  And unleashing price inflation.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.  During the American Revolutionary War there was so little gold and silver available that the Continental Congress turned to printing money.  And they printed so much that they unleashed a punishing inflation.  Causing prices to soar because the money became so worthless.  People wouldn’t accept it for payment.  So the Continental Army had to take the provisions they needed.  Leaving behind IOUs for the Continental Congress to make good on.  Later.

Of course, not everyone suffered during times of inflation.  Speculators did very well.  For their friends in the government’s central bank could print money and loan it to them on very favorable terms.  The speculators then used this cheap money and bought and sold assets.  Pocketing handsome profits in large part because of that inflation.  As the currency depreciation raised prices.  Including the prices of the assets they were selling.  So the rich got richer during periods of inflation.  While the working class just lost purchasing power.  Which is why President Andrew Jackson joined the hard-money people.  Those who favored gold and silver over paper currency.  And refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  Being one of the first world leaders not to choose destructive inflationary policies.  Instead choosing policies that favored the people.  Not the state.

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2012 Endorsements: Alexander Hamilton

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 18th, 2012

2012 Election

When Hamilton looked out Across the Vast North American Continent he saw Great Economic Opportunity

Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies.  At the age of eleven he had to get a job.  As his father abandoned his family after losing all the family money.  Young Alexander worked at Cruger and Beckman’s.  a New York trading house.  A window onto the world.  And international trade.  Where young Alexander learned about the world.  And business.  He had a gift for numbers.  He was bright.  And driven.  Born in the British West Indies he was also something else.  A Founding Father without any state lineage.  With no provincial views.  During the prelude to American independence when other patriots talked about the states going their own way he was already thinking of an American union.  And only of an American union.

The British response to the Boston Tea Party was the Intolerable Acts.  Or the Coercive Acts in Britain.  Where the British put the hurt on Boston.  And Massachusetts.  To separate it and isolate it from the rest of the colonies.  Reverend Samuel Seabury took to the papers and argued against uniting the other colonies to support Massachusetts.  That the people should support their king.  And Parliament.  And not the spoiled, trouble-making people of Boston.  Hamilton took to the papers and argued in support of union.  And Boston.  Warning the people that this was just the beginning for Britain.  More taxes would certainly follow.  Hamilton warned the people to put away their sectional differences.  As this attack on one was an attack on all.  And that if they gave up on Boston it would only be a matter of time before other colonies met the same fate.

That was all well and fine during the warm months of summer.  But the American colonies were part of the British Empire.  Which was a mercantilist empire.  Whose colonies shipped raw materials to the mother country.  And the proceeds from those sales were used to buy manufactured goods made from those raw materials in the mother country.  Making the colonists dependent on Britain for their clothing.  The lack of which would make a very cold and miserable winter.  Which led a lot of people to agree with Reverend Samuel Seabury.  But not Hamilton.  For he looked out across the American colonies and saw something else.  Economic independence.  The South had cotton.  The North could raise sheep for wool.  And they could build factories in the cities to make cloth and clothing.  Staffed by skilled immigrants from European factories.  This is what Hamilton saw when he looked out across the vast North American continent.  Great economic opportunity.  Made possible by an American union.

Hamilton spent the Winter Seasons at Valley Forge and Morristown Reading and Studying Economics and Public Finance

When the Revolutionary War came Hamilton joined the Continental Army.  Fought bravely.  Then ended up as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Serving in Washington’s inner circle he knew what the commanding general knew.  And he knew the sorry state of the army.  Half-naked, hungry and unpaid.  While some civilians were living the life of Riley.  Making a fortune off of hording commodities and selling them at high prices.  Which they could do with impunity as the Continental Congress was powerless to stop them.  As it was at the mercy of the states.  The national congress was broke and had little legal authority.  Which let the speculators run roughshod over it.  Leaving the people sacrificing the most for independence half-naked, hungry and unpaid.  Diminishing the fighting ability of the army.  Which greatly increased the risk of defeat.

Hamilton learned an important lesson.  The stronger the national government was, and the richer it was, the easier it was to wage war.  And the easier it was NOT to be defeated in war.  The problem here was that the national government was too weak.  While the state governments were too strong.  Which was fine for the people living normal lives in their states.  But not the soldiers in the field fighting for the nation.  Making things worse was inflation.  The Continental Congress was printing money.  As were the states.  And the more they printed the more they depreciated it.  Which led to even higher prices.  More profits for the speculators.  And even more hardship for the army.  Which had to at times take things from the local people in exchange for IOUs.  Making these people hate the army.  And the army hate the people.  As they were the ones risking life and limb for what was to them an ungrateful people.

Hamilton spent the winter seasons at Valley Forge and Morristown reading and studying economics and public finance.  And set out to solve the inflation problem.  What he learned was that a lot of people were benefiting by the rampant inflation.  Debtors loved it.  For the greater the inflation was the easier it was to repay loans in those depreciated dollars.  Especially the farmers.  They sold their produce at ever higher prices.  Borrowed money to buy land (and repaid those loans in depreciated dollars).  While escaping much of the ravages of inflation themselves.  Because they were farmers.  And were self-sufficient.  Eating what they grew.  Even making their own clothes.  For some inflation was a way to get rich quick at the detriment of others.  To help dissuade such activity Hamilton suggested high taxes in kind (if a farm grew wheat that they turned into flour they would pay a portion of their flour to the government as a tax) on those benefitting from inflation who where destroying the confidence in the dollar.

If Hamilton were Alive Today he would likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Hamilton also suggested a plan for a national bank.  To help restore the credit of the United States.  And to provide a source of credit for the national government.  The bank would be owned half by the government and half by rich investors.  By letting the rich investors make money on the bank it would, of course, encourage them to invest in the bank.  And provide capital the government could borrow.  Hamilton believed in bringing the rich people closer to the government.  So the government had access to their money.  Both would win in such a partnership.  And both would have a vested interest in seeing the government succeed.  The Continental Congress used some of Hamilton’s ideas.  But not enough to bring his vision to life.  He would get another chance, though.  When he became America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

At the end of the Revolutionary War the United State’s finances were in a mess.  State governments and the national government owed money.  As they used that money to prosecute the war Hamilton believed the national government should assume the states’ debts and roll in into the national debt.  And, more importantly, the new national debt would help strengthen the union.  By binding the states to the national government.  These actions also helped to restore the nation’s credit.  Allowing it to borrow money to repay old debts.  As well as finance new spending.  Hamilton also got his bank.  And he produced a report on manufacturers.  A plan to use government funds to help launch American industry.  So they could catch up to Great Britain.  And even surpass the former mother country.

Hamilton pushed for these things because he wanted to use the power of government to make America strong and fiercely independent in the world of nations.  With an economic plan that would make the nation wealthy.  And allowing it to afford a military that equaled or surpassed Great Britain.  He did not want to make America wealthy to implement a massive welfare state.  His idea of partnering government with business was to make an American Empire modeled on the British Empire.  Making it a rich military superpower.  Able to project force.  Maintaining peace through strength.  Much like the British did with their Pax Britannica that he didn’t live to see.  And to protect what it had from anyone trying to take it away from them.  So based on this who would he endorse in the 2012 election?  The party that had business-friendly policies to encourage economic growth.  The party that was more anti-inflation.  The party that would best exploit the nation’s resources.  And the party that favored a strong military.  Which is NOT the Democrat Party.  No, if Alexander Hamilton were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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Stages of Production

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2012

Economics 101

People used their Human Capital to Transform Raw Materials into Something Valuable

As we unleashed our human capital civilization advanced.  Our food needs taken care of thanks to advances in agriculture we used our new free time to think.  To think about transforming the world around us.  By exploring our world.  And the stuff that made it.  Great civilizations rose and fell throughout history.  But the ones that really advanced the world were those in northern Europe.  The people who conquered the oceans.  The Portuguese.  The Spanish.  The Dutch.  The French.  And the British.

As these great European powers set out to explore the world they established colonies in faraway lands.  To gather the raw materials available.  And to ship them back to their mother countries.  Where their advanced civilizations would transform those raw materials into higher value finished goods.  And then export them throughout the world.  Including their colonies.  This was mercantilism.  Establish colonies.  Ship raw materials to the mother country.  Export finished goods.  And Import bullion accepted in payment for those finished goods.

It’s not a good economic system.  Mercantilism.  But it did create the United States.  Which started out as a British colony.  But as a colony of a mercantilist country the Americans had to follow the rules of the mother country.  First of all they had to understand their place.  And purpose.  They were subordinate to the mother country.  And their only purpose was to procure raw materials and ship them to the mother country.  They couldn’t open trade with other countries.  Everything that left the colonies had to go on a British ship to a British port.  Where British manufacturers would transform those raw materials into finished goods for export.  The British did this because finished goods were more valuable than raw goods.  And sold for much higher prices than the raw materials sold for.  So Britain did the manufacturing.  While their colonies fed their manufacturers with raw material.

The Stages of Production is the Economic Activity that happens to bring Finished Goods to Market

The British eventually abandoned mercantilism and adopted free market capitalism and free trade.  And the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  This after losing the American colonies in the Revolutionary War, losing about half of their empire.  So free market capitalism is clearly superior to mercantilism.  But for a couple of centuries mercantilism built empires.  And provided an excellent example of the stages of production.

Raw materials mean little to consumers.  What we like are the things that people with human capital transform them into.  The things we go to the store to buy.  Such as a smartphone, for example.  Whenever a new model comes out we flock to our favorite retail store to buy it.  The retail store has it to sell because they bought a shipment from their wholesaler.  The wholesaler had it to sell because they bought it from the assembly plants that assembled them.  The assembly plants could build them because they bought the components (displays, hard cases, antennas, keys, circuit boards, etc.) from various manufacturers.  And the various manufactures bought raw materials from those who extracted them from the ground.  Interconnecting all of these is ship, rail and truck transportation.  Even planes.  Not to mention an extensive cellular network to make these smartphones work.  As well as all the software applications they run.  Adding value at every stage along the way.

There is much economic activity that happens to bring that smartphone to your favorite retail store.  Throughout these stages of production.  Note how everything else has to happen before you buy that smartphone.  Going all the way back to the extraction of raw materials from the ground.  All of these stages have to happen before you buy that phone.  So the payment for the phone follows much later than all of these other stages.  Introducing a very important element in the stages of production.  Time.  It takes time to bring things to market.  And because it takes time it also takes money.  Everyone working from raw material extraction to the salesperson selling you the phone earns an income.  And their employers pay them before you buy your phone.  Some a lot earlier than others.  Also, all of these people either work in a building.  Or in the field with equipment.  Things that others have to build first before we can even begin our raw material extraction.  Requiring an enormous capital investment before anyone earns a dime of revenue on the sale of a smartphone.

The British Empire went on to Rule the World for a Century or More because they let the Market Manage their Economy

To bring a smartphone to a retailer near you requires people to risk their money by investing in something that may earn a profit.  Investors.  And bankers.  As people saved their money they created large pools of capital for businesses to borrow.  Venture capitalists bankrolled promising entrepreneurs.  And the big corporations turned to the equity and bond markets to raise their capital.  Individuals worked hard and saved money to put in their savings account.  Or to buy stocks and bonds.  Because they did there was money to borrow.  Or to invest.  And because there was money to borrow and invest the stages of production could begin.

In the days of mercantilism the government controlled much of this.  Even providing some of that early capital.  But as the economy grew more complex it was too complex for government to manage.  Which is why the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or more.  Because they let the market manage their economy.  A myriad of people in the market place pursuing their own interests.  Pursuing profits.  Which is why free market capitalism works.  For no one person could know enough to manage all of the stages of productions to bring a smartphone to market.  And the beautiful thing is in free market capitalism no one person has to.  For when people throughout the stages of production pursue profits smartphones arrive at a retailer near you.  At reasonable prices to boot.

So the next time you pick up a smartphone at a retailer think of everything it took to bring it to your hands.  And everything it takes to operate it as you wish.  Hundreds of thousands of people pursuing profits.  Most of which have no idea what they’re doing will allow you to hold a smartphone at your favorite retailer.  Because in the stages of production everyone does their part.  Without any consideration of what their part is in the big picture.  Which is why it works so well.  Thanks to people thinking.  And unleashing their human capital to create great things throughout the stages of production.

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China pours Billions into African Infrastructure in Exchange for Lucrative Trade Agreements

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 1st, 2012

Week in Review

China is pouring billions into Africa.  Apparently out of the goodness of their heart (see Track record by Andrew Moody and Zhong Nan posted 6/29/2012 on China Daily).

The relationship between China and Africa will come under the spotlight once again when leaders of up to 50 African nations will descend on Beijing in July for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation…

China’s stock of overseas direct investment on the continent has increased eight-fold from $1.6 billion (1.3 billion euros) in 2005 to $13.04 billion at the end of 2010, the last year for which figures are available, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Trade has also seen a similar large increase with exports to Africa rising from $10.18 billion in 2003 to $59.95 billion in 2010.

In Africa itself the relationship is viewed as central. John Dramani Mahama, vice-president of Ghana, says dealing with China helps avoid the red tape linked to alternative sources of funding from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or various international aid agencies…

Meles says far from exploiting Africa, China was in the process of rescuing Africa from the so-called Washington Consensus of the past 30 years that dictated that the private sector was the best engine for development in Africa…

Only one dominant view of the China-Africa relationship seems to exist in the West – that it is an exploitative and neo-colonial one…

The retired diplomat also feels China offers a great role model for Africa in terms of showing what can be achieved with a commitment to develop.

“I can remember when Sanlitun (now the bustling entertainment district in Beijing) was just bush and Shenzhen was a small fishing port and now it is like Hong Kong. There is a feeling if they can do it, we can do it too,” he says…

[Samuel B.] Nagbe [assistant minister in the Ministry of Public Works in the capital Monrovia], however, says this also has drawbacks since there is a lack of competition when large infrastructure projects are offered for tender…

The overall relationship between China and Africa will remain a subject of debate. Philip Nyinguro, associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Nairobi, argues the weak state of some African countries makes them vulnerable when they are cutting deals with any country, whether it is China or a Western power.

This doesn’t sound much different than the spread of the British Empire.  And British colonialism.  Only the colonies may not do as well under the Chinese than they did under the British.  For let us not forget that it was the British Empire that made Hong Kong the jewel it became.  Not the Chinese.

And that attack on the private sector?  The wealth that China is creating that allows them to invest in Africa came from the private sector.  Granted it’s not what the West would call the private sector.  It’s more state-capitalism.  However, it was the transition from communism to capitalism (at least towards capitalism) in the cities that ignited their economic ascent.  So, yes, even China must agree that the best engine for economic development must come from the private sector.  Because it’s what they used.  For the communists sure couldn’t make it happen.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Clearly the Chinese want those African resources.  Just like the early mercantilist empires wanted colonies in foreign lands to feed raw materials to their economies.  The Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French and the British.  They’re just doing it a little differently.  By ‘crowding out’ all other foreign investment.  Who don’t ask any questions or place any conditions on their aid beyond the economics of their trade deals.  Giving them a presence in these African nations.  Who will expect favorable treatment in return for their generosity.  If not they can just pull it away.  And without a developing private sector these countries could return to where they were before the Chinese investments.  Or accept an expanding Chinese influence in their nations.  Just like a colony power.

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Mercantilism, North America, Pontiac’s Rebellion, American Revolution, Northwest Territory, George Rogers Clark, Louisiana Territory

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 31st, 2012

Politics 101

The French claimed great Territories in the New World but they did not Settle them nor could they Defend Them

In the Age of Discovery the Old World discovered the New World.  The Portuguese bumped into Brazil while sailing around Africa.  And they stayed awhile.  Which explains how the language from tiny Portugal is one of the top ten spoken languages in the world today.  Because of Brazil.  Population 205,716,890 in 2012.  The Spanish pretty much discovered and settled the rest of South and Central America.  Working their way up the Pacific coast of North America.  And into Mexico, Texas and Florida.  Because of this Spanish is now the 4th most spoken language in the world.  The British discovered and settled North America east of the Appalachians between Maine and Georgia.  They also settled parts of Canada south of the Hudson Bay.  And some of the Maritime Provinces.  Today English is the 2nd most spoken language in the world.  The French also came to the New World.  But they weren’t as successful.  Today French is only the 10th most spoken language in the world.

The Age of Discovery was also the age of mercantilism.  Which is why the Old World was racing to settle the New World.  So they could establish colonies.  And ship back raw materials to the mother country.  And in Spain’s case, all the gold and silver they could find.  Which they found a lot of.  Mercantilism is a zero-sum game.  To maximize the export of manufactured goods.  And to maximize the import of raw materials and bullion.  To always maintain a positive balance of trade.  And whoever had the most overseas colonies sending raw material back to the mother country won.  And as they expanded throughout the New World they eventually began to bump into each other.  As well as the Native Americans.  Who weren’t mercantilists.  But hunters and gatherers.  Like all Europeans were some 5,000 years or so earlier.  Before they became farmers.  Moved into cities.  Where they took control of their environment.  And became more efficient.  Growing ever larger populations on smaller tracts of land.  Which proved to be a great threat to the Indians.  For when these Europeans took their land they also increased their numbers.  Greatly.  And this fast growing population had the latest in war-fighting technology.

Soon they were stepping on each others’ toes in the New World.  The British and the Spanish north of Florida.  The British and the French between the Mississippi River and the Appalachians.  In New Brunswick.  And large parts of Ontario and Quebec.  A lot more territory was in dispute between the British and the French.  And that’s because the French claimed so much territory in North America.  Their claims included the lands around the St. Lawrence Seaway.  All the land around the Great Lakes.  And pretty much the total watershed into the Mississippi River.  The French had profitable business in the fur trade.  They used the rivers in North America for that trade.  With a few forts scattered along the way.  Where they traded with the Indians.  But the big difference between the French and everyone else is that the French claimed the land.  But they didn’t settle it.  Which made the Native Americans tolerate them more than the other Europeans in the New World.  But in the days of the mercantilist empires that was a problem.  Because everyone wanted everyone else’s land.  And if it wasn’t settled with large and growing populations, someone else was just going to take it.

The Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774 tried to make Peace with the Indians but Inflamed the Americans

And that’s what happened in the French and Indian War (1754–1763).  The European powers came into conflict with each other over their North American territories.  The British came out the big winners.  And the French were the big losers.  Losing pretty much everything east of the Mississippi to the British.  And everything west of the Mississippi to Spain.  The various Indian tribes fought alongside the various European powers.  But it is the fighting on the side of the French that we know them for in this war.  Where their fighting against the British Americans was some of the cruelest fighting in the war.  For the Indians liked the non-settling ways of the French.  While they didn’t care for the settling ways of the American colonists at all.  Who kept encroaching on their hunting grounds.  So at the conclusion of the French and Indian War the Native Americans were restless.  Something the British were keenly aware of.  And after the long and expensive war they just fought they didn’t want a return to hostilities.  So King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  Setting the border between the British American colonists and the Indian lands along the watershed of Appalachia.  Lands where the rivers flowed to the Atlantic Ocean were the American colonists’ lands.  Lands where the rivers flowed into the Mississippi River and its tributaries (east of the Mississippi) were Indian lands. 

This did not go very well with the American colonists.  For they planned to expand west until they could expand west no further.  At the shore of the Pacific Ocean.  Especially Virginia.  Who wanted to expand into Kentucky.  And into the Ohio Country (across the Ohio River from Kentucky).  Before the Proclamation of 1763 could even go into affect the Indians rose up in the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country and Ohio Country.  Where the British displaced the French.  Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763–66).  A rather nasty and brutal war where the Indians killed women and children as well as prisoners.  And the British used biological warfare against the Indians.  Giving the Indians smallpox-infested blankets.  In 1774 Parliament passed the Quebec Act.  Which did a lot to further annoy the American colonists.  Especially that part about extending the province of Quebec (the former French territory from Labrador all the way to the Great Lakes region) south into the Ohio and Illinois country.  Many lumped the Quebec act in with the Intolerable Acts of 1774 which were to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party.  All these acts of Parliament and proclamations of the Crown failed in one of their main objects.  Maintaining the peace on the frontier.  One year later there was another shooting war in North America.  And this one did not end well for the British.

The American Revolutionary War evolved into a World War.  Once the Americans defeated a British army at Saratoga the French joined the American cause and declared war on Great Britain.  Eager to get back their North American territories.  The Spanish would join the French in alliance and declared war on Great Britain.  Primarily to settle some old scores in the Old World as opposed to helping the American cause.  They had the lands west of the Mississippi and control of that same river.  They had no desire to see the Americans advance any further west.  In fact, they wanted to expand their territory at the expense of both the Americans and the British.  The Indians, meanwhile, saw the Americans as the greatest threat and allied with their two-time past enemy.  The British.

The Indians were Little More than Bystanders while the Europeans Traded their Land with each Other

The war in the frontier lands of the West was as nasty and brutal as ever.  The British coordinated their war effort against the Americans from their frontier outposts.  Where they traded with their Indian allies.  Some even paying the Indians for each scalp they brought back from their raids.  And so the Indians crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky.  Throughout the war.  And attacked these frontier settlements.  While the Americans fought a defensive war.  Until one man arose.  Who believed the strongest defense was a strong offense.  And he took the war to the Indians and the British in the West.  Saving Kentucky.  And conquered the Northwest Territory. 

George Rogers Clark’s plan for conquering the Northwest was bold.  First take Vincennes (in southern Indiana near the Illinois border).  Travel up the Wabash River.  Down the Maumee River.  And then on to Detroit.  After taking Detroit head north to Michilimackinac (on the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula).  The Virginian authorities liked the plan.  And commissioned him colonel in the Virginian forces.  And authorized him to conquer the Northwest.  For Virginia.  So Clark led his men down the Ohio River.  And traveled all the way to Kaskaskia near the Mississippi River in southern Illinois.  Not far from St. Louis.  Took it.  And marched to Vincennes.  And took Fort Sackville at Vincennes.  Shortly thereafter Henry Hamilton (who had a reputation for buying scalps from the Indians), governor of Detroit, Left Detroit and headed to Vincennes.  Gathering Indians along the way.  Recaptured Vincennes.  Then Clark returned and in one of the most fabled actions of the entire Revolutionary War took back Vincennes.  Despite the British and Indians greatly outnumbering Clark’s force.  Detroit lay open.  But Clark did not have the men or provisions for that conquest.

Meanwhile the Spanish were looking to cash in on their alliance with France.  And moved against British outposts from New Orleans.  Taking Baton Rouge.  Natchez.  Mobile.  And Pensacola.  To turn back the Spanish Governor Sinclair of Michilimackinac gathered a force and headed to the Spanish outpost St. Louis.  With the ultimate goal of taking New Orleans.  It did not go well.  The following year the Spanish launched an offensive of their own to take Detroit.  They got as far as St. Joseph on the other side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  Around the bottom of Lake Michigan from Chicago.  A lot of land changed hands in the Northwest.  But thanks to Clark much of it remained in American hands at the end of the war.  Who came out the big winners in this war.  The British ceded all their claims east of the Mississippi to the Americans.  Including all of the Illinois and Ohio country.  Including Michigan and the lands surrounding the Great Lakes south of Canada.  The French did not drive the peace as they had hoped.  And recovered none of their North American territories.  The Spanish emerged with pretty much what they had when they entered.  Only with the Americans across the Mississippi instead of the British.  Who were much more interested in westward expansion than the British.  But they didn’t have to worry about the Americans crossing the Mississippi.  For Napoleon strong-armed the Louisiana Territory from the French in exchange for some land in Tuscany.  Who would later sell it to the Americans.  While being rather vague on the exact boundaries.  Which the Spanish would have to worry about in the years to come as the Americans headed west.  Towards Spanish country on the west coast.

Of course the Indians were the greatest losers.  For they were little more than bystanders while the Europeans traded their land with each other.  Making the Native Americans ever more restless.  And unwilling to give up their hunting and gathering ways.  Which sealed their faith.  For while they retreated west the American population exploded.  Due to their efficient use of the land.  It was the New World against the Very Old World.  Modern farming civilizations displaced the hunters and gatherers everywhere in the world.  A trend that started some 5,000 years earlier.  And the history of North America would be no different.  The Indian ways since then have been fast disappearing.  The Indian languages were so rarely spoken in the 20th century that the code based on it was the one code the Japanese couldn’t crack during World War II.

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Byzantine Empire, Bosporus, Silk Road, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Tea Act and Opium Wars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 15th, 2012

History 101

To encourage Risk Takers to Travel Halfway around the World Mercantile States granted Monopoly Charters

The modern world began because Europeans had a penchant for silk and spices.  Something they enjoyed during Roman times.  When the Romans ruled the world.  And the Mediterranean Sea was nothing more than a Roman lake.  But when the empire stopped conquering new lands and sending the spoils of war home they had to turn to other means to pay for the cost of empire.  Taxes.  To pay for the Roman government and their public spending.  And the Roman legions.  This excessive government spending led to the fall of the western half of the empire.  But the eastern half lived on for another 1,000 years or so.  Why?  Because the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople.  On the Bosporus.  Trade crossroads of the world.

This city was so rich everybody wanted to conquer it.  So they could have all those riches.  For everything that came along the Silk Road from China crossed into Europe at the Bosporus.  Soon Muslims fought Christians in the Holy lands.  Then more Christians came.  The Crusaders.  Those who didn’t die went back to Europe with some of those Chinese luxuries.  Spices.  Silk.  Porcelain.  Etc.  Sparking a renewed interest in these finer things in Europe.  Especially the spices.  For European cooking was horribly bland at the time.  The Ottoman Turks eventually took Constantinople.  Renamed it Istanbul.  And controlled that lucrative trade.  Making those much sought after Asian goods rather expensive in Europe.  Which they had no choice but to pay.  Because if you wanted those luxuries you had to go through Istanbul.  Until the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a direct route to those cherished goods, that is.

It was the Commercial Revolution.  A new age of international trade.  A trade even more profitable than what the Ottoman Turks controlled.  Because big ocean-going vessels can carry more cargo than anything coming over land on the Silk Road.  And these new European maritime powers wanted that wealth.  And the power it would provide.  To encourage risk takers to get into those wooden ships and travel halfway around the world they granted monopoly charters.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was one of the largest.  And one of the wealthiest.  But this was not your typical company.  The VOC established overseas colonies.  It waged war.  Established treaties.  Even coined its own money.  Because of this thousands of VOC ships stuffed full of valuable cargoes sailed to Antwerp and Amsterdam, making the Dutch very wealthy.  And powerful.

The Tea Act allowed the Company to Ship their Tea Directly to America and exempted them from any Duties

Of course the Dutch weren’t the only ones doing this.  They had competition.  Portugal.  Spain.  France.  And England.  Who would bump into each other numerous times fighting for control of this trade.  And those colonies.  The English and the Dutch would fight 4 wars.  Which is how Dutch-founded Manhattan became part of the British Empire and, subsequently, one of America’s greatest cities.  The English East India Company gave the VOC a run for its money.  Parliament even passed legislation to give the English a monopoly on all trade with their American colonies.  The Navigation Acts.  Which stated that all trade to and from America had to be on English ships.  And all trade had to go through an English port.  Where the ships were unloaded and the cargoes inspected.  And taxed.  Then they could reload their cargoes and continue on their journey.  All tenets of mercantilism.  This kept the lower-priced Dutch goods out of America.  And prevented the Americans from selling to the Dutch directly for higher prices.  So it shut down the Dutch from all American trade (except for a prosperous black market). And brought in some lucrative tax revenue for England.  While extending shipping times and increasing prices for the Americans.  Which they were not happy about in the least.

The English East India Company (the Company) was similar in structure to the VOC.  And soon made the Indian subcontinent a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Waging war was costly.  As was managing those conquered territories (something the Romans had also learned).  Then a famine in Bengal in 1770 claimed about one-third of the local population.  Making laborers more scarce.  And more expensive.  All at a time when the sales of their imported goods were falling in Europe.  There were warehouses full of unsold Chinese tea that they couldn’t sell.  Making for a bad time for the Company.

Higher costs and lower sales spelled trouble.  And that’s what the Company had a lot of.  Trouble.  So the Company turned to Parliament for help.  And Parliament helped.  By allowing the Company to ship their tea directly to America without having to unload it in a British port.  Or pay a duty on that tea.  Which would greatly reduce their costs.  And allow them to sell it in America cheaper than they did before.  So Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773.  Making life better for all involved.  But the Tea Act left in place another tax in the previous Townshend Acts.  Which was a bigger problem than getting cheaper tea (which they could get on the black market from the Dutch).  These taxes on the British subjects in America were unconstitutional.  Because there were no Americans sitting in Parliament.  This was taxation without representation.  A much bigger issue than cheap tea.  So they threw that first ‘cheap’ tea into Boston Harbor.  The Boston Tea Party being a major step towards war with the mother country.  And American independence.

Britain became the Lone Superpower after Abandoning their Protectionist Mercantile Policies and Adopting Free Trade

The American Revolutionary War was not the only headache the British got from their mercantile policies.  Part of those policies required maintaining a positive balance of trade.  So there was always a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  That’s why raw materials shipped into Britain from America.  And finished goods shipped out to America.  Finished goods are more valuable than raw materials.  So the Americans had to make up for this balance of trade in bullion.  Resulting in a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  Very simple.  As long as you can manufacture higher valued goods that other people want to buy.

And this is the problem they ran into with the Chinese.  For though the British wanted those Chinese spices, silk and porcelain the Chinese didn’t want anything the British manufactured.  Which meant Britain had to pay for those luxuries with bullion.  Including all that Chinese tea they craved.  Which resulted in a net outflow of bullion to the Chinese.  The British fixed this problem by finding the one thing that the Chinese people wanted.  Indian opium.  Grown in Bengal.  Of course, this turned a lot of Chinese into opium addicts.  The addiction problem was so bad that the Chinese banned opium.  But the British were able to smuggle it in.  They sold so much of it that they used the proceeds to buy their tea.  Thus reversing the bullion flow.

Not the finest hour in the British Empire.  The Chinese and the British would go on to fight a couple of wars over this opium trade.  The Opium Wars.  Which the British did all right in.  Even gaining Hong Kong in the bargain.  They didn’t build any long-lasting love with the Chinese people.  But Hong Kong turned out pretty nice under the British.  Especially after they abandoned their protectionist mercantile policies and adopted free trade.  Which made the British the lone superpower for about a century as they modernized the world by leading the way in the Industrial Revolution.  And the Chinese in Hong Kong were very happy indeed to be there when the communists took over the mainland.  And caused a famine or two.  For they lived comfortably.  In a state founded on mercantilism.  That achieved its greatest prosperity during the free trade of capitalism that followed Britain’s mercantile ways.

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Mercantilism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 14th, 2012

Economics 101

Wealth is the Stuff we use our Talent and Ability to Make

Mercantilism gave us the United States.  For it was because of these policies that the British established colonies in North America.  And it was those same policies that led to American Independence.  Because those polices pissed off the Americans. 

The mercantile system came into being as nation states arose from feudal estates.  Kings arose and consolidated these estates into larger kingdoms.  Then one king arose to consolidate the kingdoms into a nation.  Creating Spain, France, the Netherlands, England, etc.  Enlightened thinking and better technology created food surpluses.  With food surpluses a middle class of artisans arose.  And manufactured goods.  People met in markets to trade their food and goods.   These markets grew into cities.  All of this economic activity created wealth.  Food.  And manufactured goods.  That we bought with money.  Often silver and gold. 

There was wealth.  And there was money.  Two different things.  Wealth is the stuff we use our talent and ability to make.  Food and manufactured goods, for example.  And the more food and manufactured goods a nation has the wealthier that nation is.  This is a critical point.  And the mercantile policies ultimately failed because those policies mistook money for wealth.  But money is not wealth.  It’s a temporary storage of wealth.  To make our trading of food and manufactured goods easier.  By reducing the search costs to find people to trade with.  Which is why the barter system failed in a complex economy.  It just took too long to find people to trade with.  Money solved that problem.  Because you could trade what you had for money.  Then trade your money for what you wanted.

England used the Positive Flow of Bullion to Finance the Building of the Royal Navy

Mercantilism focused on the money.  And used wealth to accumulate it.  Instead of the other way around.  The way most advanced nations do today.  These European nations accumulated money with international trade.  Beginning in the 15th century they started looking at the balance of trade between nations.  And did everything they could to maintain a positive balance of trade.  Meaning they tried to export more than they imported.  Why?  Well, nations often did trade with each other.  So they owed each other money.  And when you settled your account if other nations owed you more than you owed them there was a net flow of money to you.  Bullion.  Silver and gold.  Which is what they wanted.

To maintain a positive balance of trade the government actively intervened into the economy.  It set up monopolies.  It provided subsidies for manufacturers who exported their goods for bullion.  It placed tariffs on imports.  Or simply blocked the importation of any goods that they produced domestically.  They set up colonies to harvest raw materials to ship back to the mother country.  Which would use those raw materials in their factories to produced higher valued finished goods.  That they would export.  Especially to their colonies.  Which were convenient captive markets for their finished goods.  On the mother country’s ships.  Through the mother country’s ports.  Where they, of course taxed it.  Guaranteeing that at every step of the way they added to the positive bullion flow back to the mother country.

And it worked.  To a certain extent.  England used that positive flow of bullion to finance the building of the Royal Navy.  Which proved invaluable in the wars that followed in the mercantile world.  For mercantilism is a zero-sum game.  For every winner there had to be a loser.  Which is why this era was an era of world war.  To wrest control of those colonies.  And those sea lanes.  Great Britain came out the victor.  Thanks to their Royal Navy.  But it wasn’t all good.  For Spain found gold in the New World.  And they took it.  Shipped it back to the Old World.  Just like a good mercantilist would.  Which caused problems in the Old World.  Because money is not wealth.  It’s a temporary storage of wealth.  And when they inflated their money supply it took more of it to hold the same amount of value it once did.  Because there was so much of it in circulation.  And what happens during inflation?  Prices rise.  Because the money is worth less it takes more of it to buy the same things as it did before.  So by hording bullion to create wealth they actually destroyed wealth.  With wealth-destroying inflation.

With the Boston Tea Party the Americans Renounced Mercantilism and Demanded Free Trade

Spain was one of the greatest mercantile nations of the era.  But they quickly became a shadow of their former self.  Even though they had more bullion than their European neighbors.  For it turned out that those mercantile policies hindered economic growth.  Which is the true source of wealth.  Economic growth.  Where people use their talent and ability to create things.  That’s where the true value lay.  Not the money that held that value temporarily.  All those mercantilist policies did was raise domestic prices.  And allocated scarce resources poorly. 

It turned out free trade was the secret to wealth.  For free trade can increase wealth.  For both nations.  Thanks to something we call comparative advantage.  Instead of both nations manufacturing all of their goods they should only manufacture those goods that they can manufacture best.  And trade for the goods they can’t manufacture best.  This more efficiently allocates those scarce resources.  And produces a greater total amount of wealth.  By allowing people to buy lower cost imports they have more money left over to buy other stuff.  Increasing the overall amount of economic activity.  Which is why when Great Britain adopted free trade in the 19th century the British Empire went on to rule the world for a century or so.  And led the Industrial Revolution.  By creating wealth.  Goods and services people created with their talent and ability.  That changed the world.  And ushered in the modern era.  Something no amount of bullion could do.

But before Britain adopted free trade they were struggling with one of their belligerent colonies.  Their British American colonies.  Who were unhappy over taxation without representation in Parliament.  And the mother country forcing them to buy only British tea shipped on British ships at higher prices than they could get from the Dutch.  The British thought they found a solution to their problem.  By permitting their British East India Company monopoly to ship their tea directly to America without passing through an English port.  The tea was cheaper because of this.  But it also would set a precedent for taxation without representation.  Something the Americans weren’t about to accept.  So they threw that tea into Boston Harbor.  What we affectionately call the Boston Tea Party.  Renouncing mercantilism.  And demanding the right to engage in free trade.  Which they got after winning their independence.  And the mother country would follow suit in a few decades.  Because they, too, would learn that free trade was better than mercantilism.

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