Monday, November 04, 2013

Corporate Empires

If capitalism was such a profitable idea, why didn't the Indians, Chinese, and Ottomans think of it? The answer, of course, is that they did. Individual entrepreneurs in all the great empires of the East were busy practitioners of capitalist ideas, but in those empires the imperial, kingly, and noble authorities were careful to keep the commercial classes in check. The empires they built were based on taxation and plunder.

In Western Europe, it might have been the very weakness of the states that made things turn out differently. In Holland, Britain, and France exploration and conquest were financed by stock markets and run as commercial companies. Companies set up intially for trade found it useful to protect themselves against pirates, defend themselves against local rulers, and eventually to conquer their Eastern trading partners. At its apex the British East India Company had a much bigger army than Britain. In the Nineteenth Century, when the big Dutch and British imperial corporations were nationalized, the capitalists had already captured control of the Dutch and British governments.

In the Nineteenth Century, when China attempted to stamp out the opium trade which had addicted 20% of its population, British narco-trafficers were able to get the British government to declare war on China in the name of "free trade."