According to Philip Curtin, trade and exchange represent “the most important external stimiuli to change.” Using England as your point of reference, assess this argument. In doing so be certain to support your analysis with specific evidence. Limit your discussion to the end of the 18th century in order to satisfy the assignment criteria.
Economic History of the West
This paper assesse the argument that trade and exchange represents the most important external stimuli to change. The strengths of the leading nations never remain constant, mainly because of the varied growth rates among different societies. The other factor is due to the fact that the different technological and organizational advances will bring greater advantages to one society than the other. For example, the development of the long-range gunned sailing ship and the consequent rise of the Atlantic trading after 1500 were not beneficial to all the European states. Other states were more developed than others and among the countries which benefited the most was England (Kennedy, 69). The emergence and development of modern economic thoughts was correlative with the emergence of commercial, industrialist and finally capitalist markets economy. It is this economic system that arose in Western Europe, to be specific England that economics attempts to define, understand, justify and explain. In the beginning, there were markets and market relationships, but not market economics as the term was understood after the eighteenth century. At the time, different thinkers did speculate about topics similar to economics like trade, money, production and value for money. This can be found in documents emanating from early civilization like Sumeria, Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Israel and the Hittite empire. From this documentations, it is clear that economic activities, especially those that entailed trade, was engaged by domestic and specialized initiatives (Tracy, 206). This eventually gave rise to different forms of economic analysis.
Trying to analyze the existence of trade and exchange in early days of man, the works of Hesiod, written in the eighth century will be used an example. Hesiod wrote several works that acknowledged the role of hard, truthful labor in production, and the premeditated approach to farming and husbandry. This works were later cited by Plato and Aristotle three centuries later. Xenophon, which was one of their contemporaries, dealt with domestic management and the division of labor, money and responsibilities among the wealthy. Plato and Aristotle have better contributions towards economic analysis. They were concerned with aspects of the relation of knowledge to social actions, topics that relate to political economies like implications of justice for the control of the economy (Medema, 120). They also emphasized on specific matters like self-sufficiency versus trade, consequences that may arise due to specializations and division of labor. Other aspects included the nature and role of exchange, the role of money and the demand for the money, the meaning of value and its source, desired interests on loans. The two also raised questions concerning population, prices and price intensities of commodities.
Another way of analyzing the existence of trade is the example of the cross cultural traders. The Jews merchants and other trading merchants were referred to as cross cultural traders not because of their varied culture but rather because of the varied activities taking place, which included intellectual exchange and other diplomatic negotiations (Landreth and Colander, 58). The cross-cultural trade was concerned with economic, social, legal, and rhetoric determinants of trade. The exchanges did not involve any credit and limited risks because traders inspected the merchandise before trading. The expression rather designates extended credit relations and business cooperation between traders who shared implicit and explicit agreements with regard to the rules of exchange. However, because of historical patterns beyond their control, they belonged to separate communities. Trade and exchange enabled strangers to cooperate peacefully, even though there were social and cultural implications of the practice. For example, other Jewish descendants were expelled from Spain in 1492, while others were forced to convert to Catholicism in Portugal in 1497.
One of the communities that played a major role in the early modern European commercial society was the Sephardim. The Sephardic merchants led lives that were seen as insular and outward looking. Since trade was a major means of their articulation, it created a channel of close personal interaction between the non-Jews communities and the Sephardim. This was the rationale behind new policies that tolerated Iberian Jews in Several European countries. The aim of achieving profits was a powerful means of bringing strangers together, improving their familiarity to one another, and turning each other into reliable business associates. This aspect explains in detail the argument that indeed trade and exchange represents the most important stimuli to changes in any given society (Sandmo, 165). It is important to note that, neither day to day commercial relations nor government policies that were aimed to encourage business interactions among the merchants ever led to or created a commercial society that was genuinely cosmopolitan. The commercial society was fully aware of the differences between the Jews and the non-Jews communities, even though they traded peacefully.
The Sephardic merchants conducted business with varied individuals ranging from friends, to family members and even strangers. This was enhanced by the existence of state suctioned institutions that rendered market relations more impersonal. Historians on their part assumed that blood ties and other aspects like shared religion or same ethnicity formed bonds of trusts. This gave trading within diaspora a more competitive advantage. Economists had the role of examining the efficiency with the governments imposed legal standards that liquefied such bonds and created impersonal markets. So as to make the best out of their trading activities, Sephardic traders combined the social incentives, shared customs concerning the conduct of exchange, and other legal commitments, with the main aim of securing their agents’ cooperation. They promoted better ties between the Jewish communities and the non-Jewish (Hobsbawm, 204). For example, Sephardim Jewish were equated to the Christians in their capacity as traders in some parts of Europe. They had secure rights to property and were able to access same civil and commercial courts like the Christian merchants. These were some of the positive changes that were brought about by effective trading and exchange activities. This principle however never became a universal rule because the rights and obligations of the Sephardim were defined locally.
England, which was the earliest modern European society to epitomize the power of commerce and to open up new avenues of social mobility and religious tolerance, readmitted Sephardim in 1656. It accepted them as aliens and not subjects of the crown; this means that they were not equal in colonial trade. They suffered from various restrictions with regard to their social and political rights, some of which had negative impact to their economic organizations. An example is the prohibition of marriages between the Jewish and the Christian communities. This is an example of negative changes brought about by trade and exchange (Tracy, 136). The creation of uneasy trust, as was used by historians at the time, was one of the outcomes of the early modern European commercial expansion. This made the aspect of cross-cultural exchange possible, in that it contributed to the emergence of routines that generated trust between the merchants.
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