Pienso y Existo

noviembre 24, 2012

The Industrial Revolution and its role in the development of Global Commerce

Filed under: Pensamientos — Wilmar Perez @ 11:07 am
Tags: ,

It is nowadays just normal to shop fruits from South America, sweets from Europe and tea from china at the local supermarket in a Thursday’s evening rush. It is taken for granted, especially in rich societies, that those goods are always available. People even get picky about them and browse around for different qualities, a wider choice of origins or, simply, price. However, the easy access to world goods and merchandise was not always the case. One might believe that distances and transportation were the main factors in the previous unavailability of large supplies of foreign products; and indeed it played an important role, however world wide availability of merchandise was triggered by several key factors that together created the “ecosystem” of global trade in use today.

Until the middle of the eighteen century (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 580), societies only produced goods for their own subsistence. With the possible exception of colonies that were exploited and driven to produce surplus of specific goods for export, there was a lack of commercial specialization. Societies used to produce their own foods, drinks and clothes. There was not really enough room to produce anything else but those products that fulfilled their basic needs. Owing to weather conditions people could only grow certain crops and adapt their diet to it. Owing to availability of fabrics and furs (Foster), societies could only have certain, laborious to make, types of clothes.

There was a break point in the second half of the seventeen century when the family, as a whole, decided to work harder and for longer periods to produce surpluses that could be traded (Smith, 2011). Inevitably, the family group, alike the surrounding households, started to favour those goods that were easier to grow or make under their specific conditions, relying on trading those goods they didn’t produce. At that point societies started to depend more and more on foreign (outside the village) commerce to fulfill some of their needs. As societies started to receive not only other goods in exchange for their products but also silver, they started to have some purchasing power to buy luxuries, that is, those things not needed for basic subsistence. That process further increased the amount of global commerce (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 581).

However, it was only until it was possible to produce cheaper goods through less manual labour that global commerce took off with greater strength. With the invention of vapour driven machinery that allowed industries to increase by several times their output at lower costs, some societies, specially Europeans, were able to offer their goods at such attractive prices in the foreign trade that it was no longer appealing for others to produce them but it was better to buy them (Allen, 2006, p. 13). Even for very low incoming people it was easier to buy a cheap shirt made in England that a handmade shirt made next door (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 581). Europe was no longer in trade deficit with Asia and the Americas, with the advent of industrialization, now Europeans, with focus on England, were at the center of the world economic order (Wikipedia, 2012).

Even though most focus is put on the technical innovation that drove the industrial revolution, as it was shown above, the change on household tradition and labour organization was the starting point of the industrial revolution movement, scientific and technical development gave the means for increase production; but it was a new set of professionals that push the limits of the production and global trade: traders, financiers, accountants and lawyers (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 581). Financiers supported bankers that provide the funding for traders to ship goods globally. Financiers also provided the economic means for investors to impulse either technical developments or its applications in the industry. The banking system made its network stronger in order to distribute the capital to the areas where it was needed (Montagna, 2012). Lawyers and accountants also played a key role in the development of the global economic trade by setting up the legal bases for a trustworthy interchange of credits and payments across different legal systems.

As for non-European or American societies, they were either left behind or become raw suppliers and end consumers only. Probably China is the most puzzling case, with a tradition of big player, great empire and source of knowledge development; it was bound to be an epicenter for the industrial revolution. However China, like the Ottoman and Mughal dynasties, used their better thinkers to solidify their own bureaucracy and support their existing agrarian systems. They did not follow the kind of experimental science that enabled Europeans to discover industrial processes and did not keep the pace of the changing trade in a globalized economy (Tignor, et al., 2011, p. 584).

It was then, by the mix of all the above factors that the global commerce as it is now, was brought to existence.

  • Tignor, R., Adelman, J., Aron, S., Brown, P., Elman, B., Kotkin, S., et al. (2011). Worlds Entangled, 1600-1750. Dans Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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