Friday, January 04, 2013

Dope Dealers, 17th Century Style

Niall Ferguson finds it notable that after making his name, knighthood and fortune from piracy, Henry Morgan invested his profits in a Jamaican Sugar plantation. The British Empire's progress beyond piracy continued with the importation of what became the hot commodities in Europe's first mass consumer market. Caffeine, sugar and nicotine were the new drugs of choice - uppers, says Ferguson, versus the traditional European downer of alcohol.

After drugs, the next consumer market was for textiles, namely the highly refined textiles of India.

The economics of this early import trade were relatively simple. Seventeenth-century English merchants had little they could offer Indians that the Indians did not already make themselves. They therefore paid for their purchases in cash, using bullion earned from trade elsewhere rather than exchanging English goods for Indian. Today we call the spread of this process globalization, by which we mean the integration of the world as a single market. But in one important respect seventeenth-century globalization was different. Getting the bullion out to India and the goods home again, even the transmission of orders to buy and sell, meant round trips of some twelve thousand miles, every mile hazardous with the chance of storms, shipwrecks and pirates.

Ferguson, Niall (2008-03-17). Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Kindle Locations 623-628). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Thus began the struggle of the European trading nations over India.