Most people tend to think that today’s global economy has only been around a few years. If you were to read Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree or The World is Flat, you would put the current global economy at only decades old. The truth about today’s global economy is that it is the “High Tech Global Economy”. It depends on the Internet and speed of light communication systems joined by a network of trade routes and trade agreements stretching around the world. However, the “Low Tech Global Economy” has been around for thousands of years. It all starts in Ancient Rome…
Sentaus Populus Que Romanus, or the Senate and People of Rome, started what we know of as the world economy. In fact, we could even go back to Greek and other Mediterranean traders as the instigators of a world economy. But it was Rome that really brought specialization to the process. It would bring in wheat and other fruits from Egypt. In fact, the richest Romans were importers and exporters. Along with this system, the Roman monetary system of coinage helped to bring about a system where goods had constant value in different parts of the Empire. Perhaps the Roman’s greatest achievement was their linkage of northern and western Europe to Asian and African trade networks. By the 5th century, all roads may have lead to Rome, but the shift had begun to Constantinople and Jerusalem.
The next great achievement in global trade came under Islamic empires. While Europe was sleeping during the Middle Ages, the world kept going. Islam’s massive achievements in trade included the following concepts: trading corporations, contracts, partnerships, and the earliest forms of credit, checks, savings accounts, pawning, loaning, and exchange rates. It is an amazing set of accomplishments that lays the foundation for capitalism but also global trade. However, it was also the Ottomans who cut off trade between East and West in 1453 thereby prompting the Kings and Queens of Europe to find an alternate route to East Asia (It is ironic that China and India also had the products and services everyone was vying for in the 1400s as well as today).
Once Columbus hit the water and then the beaches of The Bahamas, the global trade network hit full force resulting in a triangular trade between Europe, the Americas, and Africa with Europe benefiting the most while Asian countries were left out in the cold. The Slave trade may have been at the heart of the global economy, but the root of it was money. The resulting effect of the Ottoman’s cutting off trade was the rise of Europe as a trading power and the rapid decline of Asia in the world economy. For Africa, the slave trade dominated western and central kingdoms as they tried to maintain their power in the face of new technologies. For the Americas, a Native population estimated between 20-25 million is almost wiped out in 300 years and natural resources and soil plundered in the name of cash crops, fish, furs, forest products and other minerals.
Looking at maps of the territory the Spanish, British, French, and Dutch claimed is to look at the world.
This “Low Tech” world trade system under the yolk of Imperialism resulted in the stuffing of pockets of those back in Europe along with continuous conflict in Europe and around the colonial world between the powers. America’s first successful British settlement in 1607 was funded by the Virginia Company, a British corporation. The taxation over the result of the French and Indian War (fighting over the lucrative fur trade in in the Ohio Valley) leads directly to the American Revolution. The “Low Tech Global Economy” moved rather slowly. Every once in a while there would be an achievement or innovation that moved it up a few notches; the train, the telegraph, the telephone or the automobile.
By the time 1900 rolled around, there were more players on the world stage including the US, Japan, and Germany who would come to dominate global and economic affairs for the next 100 years. China and India would reemerge in the late 1990s and early 2000s as well as Middle Eastern Oil conglomerates. The 1900s would see two World Wars, a Cold War, and boom in information services and a use of natural resources that are reshaping the world as we speak.
As the “High Tech Global Economy” moves forward, what new forms of transportation and communication will it spark? What countries will be left in the dustbins of history? Will we see old powers fall by the wayside as innovation in energy passes them by? Its easy to look at Globalization as a part of history that is an ever growing arc. However, it is hard to look the present and where it is going from within. The High Tech Global Economy, after all, is only 14 years old. Imagine what it could look like in 500 years.