Chapter 3: The Rise of the Global Empires
Beginning in the 1300s, a rivalry between two kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula led to a whole lot of exploring, trading, and conquering. Before long, other European powers were getting in on the action. Not only did it transfer the gravity of the world’s political and economic power toward Europe, it set Europe on a path toward industrialization.
In this episode, we’ll explore:
The early days of European naval exploration
Portuguese trade in the East
Spanish conquest in the West
The mountain of silver at Potosi
How plantation commodities changed the world economy
The foundations of the transatlantic slave trade
The development of joint stock corporations, modern banking, and insurance
Sources for this episode include:
Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. Vintage. 2014.
Diamond, Jerad. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company. 1997.
Diffie, Bailey W. Prelude to Empire: Portugal Overseas Before Henry the Navigator. University of Nebraska Press. 1960.
Ferguson, Niall. The Accent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Penguin Books. 2008.
Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. Vintage. 2015.
Haynes, Stephen R. “Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery.” The American Historical Review, Volume 108, Issue 4, 1 October 2003, Pages 1150–1151
Mann, Charles C. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Knopf. 2011.
Herreld, Donald J. "An Economic History of the World Since 1400." The Great Courses. 2016.
Satia, Priya. Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution. Penguin Press. 2018.
One of the five pillars of Islam is the Hajj. It's a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their life if they’re able. In 1324, a Muslim king from gold-rich west Africa made this pilgrimage. He traveled the old Bedouin trade routes of the Sahara to Egypt and on to the Holy City.
He was the great Mansa Musa the First of Mali. With him was a caravan of 60,000 men, including a personal entourage of 12,000 slaves, all wearing fine brocades of Persian silks. Also on the trip was a train of 80 camels, carrying an estimated 24,000 pounds of gold.
While passing through Egypt, Musa was a little too generous with the people of Cairo. He spent a huge amount of gold buying everything they had to sell.
How much gold? So much that it caused an inflationary spike which started a decade-long economic crisis in the Mediterranean. That much gold.
And word of the Mansa’s exploits got back to the port cities of Venice, Pisa, and Genoa. And the Europeans started asking themselves, how do we get in on that action? How can we get some of that gold?
The age of exploration was about to begin.
This is the Industrial Revolutions.
Chapter 3: The Rise of the Global Empires
On his way back home, Musa stopped by the city of Timbuktu and peacefully annexed it into his empire. He also built the great Mosque there. And during his reign, Timbuktu became a center of learning and wealth. And the legend of Timbuktu took off.
To look for the source of this African wealth, Italian traders used the Iberian Peninsula as a launching pad. Back in 1317, a Genoese merchant named Manuel Pessanha signed (what turned out to be) a landmark agreement with King Denis of Portugal. Pessanha’s men would command the King’s ships and impart their knowledge of advanced navigation to the Portuguese sailors.
It was Denis’ son and successor, Alfonso IV, who helped defeat the Moors at the Battle of Rio Salado (despite their cannons) which I mentioned near the end of Chapter 2.
With the Moors on the run, Alfonso sent three ships south to explore the Canary Islands, which the Genoese found some years earlier.
But Alfonso’s old ally, King Luis of Castile, had already found and claimed the Canaries. The pope was brought in to adjudicate. Long story short, Castile had made their claim first, so they got the islands. The mad-rush, to claim whatever new territory you found, had begun.
For the next hundred years, Castilian and Portuguese expeditions set out to find what they could and lay claim to it. And as navigation improved, the further these expeditions traveled.
Portuguese exploration picked up in the early 1400s thanks to their Prince Henrique – or as we know him, Henry the Navigator.
In his early 20s, Henry had encouraged his father, the King, to capture the port town of Ceuta on the Moroccan coast. This set up a base for African exploration in the years to come. From there, he oversaw the expeditions that found the Azores and Madeira. Wanting to find that gold, he sent expeditions south along the African coast, making it as far as modern-day Senegal.
Henry was a Medieval warrior. That’s important to keep in mind. His worldview was one of domination. Feeding into it was the legacy of the Crusades and the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula. It was about more than Christian glory. To satisfy the objectives of the pope, the Iberians made defeating Islam a priority for their expeditions. (at least in theory)
And like many in Medieval Europe, Henry wanted to find the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John. Now, we are not going to go down the rabbit hole of Prester John or his totally made-up kingdom. But if you don’t know about this story, I do recommend Googling it.
Also keep in mind the Iberians were finding pretty undeveloped places. When they found the Canaries, for example, the people living there were still living like hunter-gatherers. Again, to Medieval Europeans, territory was up for grabs if you could take it. It wasn’t they way we think of countries today, with clearly defined territory and government fixed in law.
But the seeds of that concept were starting to take root. You see, Henry’s expeditions led to a number of colonies set up on islands along the coast of Africa. That forced a new round of diplomatic back-and-forth between Portugal and Castile. And once again, the pope was brought in to play referee.
This time, the Pope said that since Castile got the Canaries, Portugal would get pretty much everything south of there. Kings were starting to get legal rights to territories.
And so, Europeans began trading along the West African coast, using Portuguese ports. While on these trade routes, one Genoese sailor decided to keep track of how long the coast was to get a sense of how large the earth was. Who knows? Maybe he could sail around it. His name was Cristòffa Cómbo, or as we know him in English, Christopher Columbus.
Around this time, the sister of the King of Castile married the prince of neighboring Aragon. Isabella and Ferdinand would eventually inherit the thrones of their respective kingdoms, and effectively combined them into one singular Spain.
And Spain was ready to expand its influence in navigation and trade, and maybe get ahead of Portugal again. So, when Columbus came to the co-monarchs looking for their patronage, they were willing to give it.
Columbus was obsessed with finding the kingdom of the great Kahn. He wanted to initiate a friendly, trade-based relationship – not knowing, that by this point, the Mongol empire of the Khans had collapsed like a hundred years earlier. It was all part of a bigger vision he had for uniting the two civilizations against Islam and recapturing Jerusalem.
A better sailor than schemer of international conspiracies, Columbus found a sea route on easterly winds that took him down to the islands of the Caribbean. But he was convinced he found, what he called, “India beyond the Ganges.”
Columbus would go to his grave believing he was in Asia, but admitted he was confused and mystified by what he found. As he put it, the people there were astonishingly primitive, delighted by simple gifts, and totally ignorant to European weapons. Like, isn’t this where we got the gunpowder from in the first place?
He must have also been confused about the resources there – or, more likely, just lied his ass off – because the reports he sent back to Spain included promises of gold mines and plants like cinnamon, rhubarb, and aloe. Columbus was an embellisher, and worse, a cruel tyrant to the native peoples of the West Indies.
He was also a piss-poor diplomat. On his way back to Spain, he stopped in Portugal and paid a visit to King John II, and told him what he’d been up to. Naturally, this sparked an international crisis.
You see, as far west as they were, those Caribbean islands were south of the Canaries. And yet, Columbus had claimed them for Spain. So once again, the monarchs of Portugal and Spain called up the Pope to sort out this mess. After a new round of diplomacy, the Pope issued the Inter caetera and the two rival nations signed the Treaty of Tordesillas.
Spain would keep the Canaries, but Portugal would get all other new territory east of the 46-degree line of longitude. Anything found west of the line would go to Spain.
Side note: As it happens, the South American continent turned out to be so big that the 46-degree line ran through it. And, in keeping with the agreement, the eastern coast of the continent did go to Portugal. Fast forward and this is why, in Brazil today, they speak Portuguese instead of Spanish.
The Inter caetera, the Treaty of Tordesillas, and the many prior agreements between Portugal and Castile, would shape a new world order.
Before the Columbus expedition, Portugal had figured out a route to Asia around South Africa. And thanks to the Treaty of Tordesillas, they had the Eastern Hemisphere all to themselves. Now they had to kick it into high-gear, to get to India and China, before the Spanish did.
The expedition was led by Vasco da Gama, who set sail from Lisbon in 1497 and landed in Calicut, India, within a year. Upon landing, he met some local officials and told them he was sent by the Portuguese king, the richest in the world. He knew full well the King of Portugal was not the richest in the world, but figured the Indians wouldn’t.
They told him he would need to offer gifts to the Samarin of Calicut. What da Gama came up with was 12 pieces of striped cloth, 4 hoods, 6 hats, 4 strings of coral, 6 hand-washing basins, a case of sugar, 2 barrels of oil and 2 barrels of honey. The agents who inspected the gifts realized da Gama was full of crap, laughed at him, and explained that, “not even the poorest merchant from Mecca would insult their ruler with such a pitiful selection of gifts.”
Da Gama was a Portuguese noble and soldier. He was not a merchant. Trade was not his strong suit. So it should come as little surprise that, on his second voyage, he ended up trying to conquer Calicut. He failed.
But the Portuguese route to India was established. And over the years, the Portuguese got better at trading with the east. For one thing, they established a triangle trade network. They’d sell their measly goods to West Africans, who had more gold than they knew what to do with. From there the Portuguese took that gold to India, where they would use it to buy spices and other valuable goods.
Of course, the spice trade with Europe had been established for centuries. Venice had a long history of importing spices from the Levant. Portugal wanted that to be over, so they’d use their vessels to attack cargo shipments headed for the Levant and Italy.
Portugal also realized the benefit of subcontinental rivalries and played Indian rulers off one another. Then they forced their way into trade with China, where they established a port at Macao in 1557. Overall, they went wild in Indian Ocean, with plenty of smuggling, kidnapping, and piracy.
This would set the tone for centuries of European naval activity, including the rise of privateers and militarized outfits like the East India Companies.
The Portuguese were beginning to shift the world’s political and economic gravity away from the Middle East, away from India, away from China, and toward western Europe. But what really ensured European domination, in the centuries to come, was the Spanish conquest of the Americas.
Within a decade of Columbus’s death, pretty much everyone figured out the lands he discovered were nowhere near Asia. If only he realized it was a new world, because the guy who did figure it out, Amerigo Vespucci, got everything named after him.
After the Treaty of Tordesillas, Spain decided to reap the rewards of this new world monopoly and sent over their conquistadors.
One of the most famous was Hernan Cortes.
After some time conquering in the Caribbean, Cortes headed to Mexico. He made his way to the capital city of the Triple Alliance, or as we more incorrectly call it, the Aztec Empire.
After they were allowed into the city, the conquistadors took the emperor hostage. Then one night – for reasons that aren’t clear – they massacred hundreds of Aztec during a religious festival. The people rose up and the Spaniards got the hell out of there. Then they made plans for an attack.
But before they could launch it, the Spaniards had (inadvertently) transmitted the smallpox virus to the natives. It quickly swept through densely-packed central Mexico, killing at least one third of the indigenous population in only a few months.
When they did attack, they slowly overwhelmed the Aztecs, despite an ingenious defense system. Cortes quickly went on to conquer the rest of Mexico.
Had it not been for smallpox, it’s extremely doubtful Cortes would have succeeded. It’s why global empires could have only come out of the Eurasian landmass.
Remember all that stuff in Chapter 1 about domesticating animals? In no other part of the world were there so many animals that could be domesticated as there were on the Eurasian landmass. And when it happened, the early farmers lived in close quarters with their herds. It was not exactly sanitary. In the millennia that followed, the Eurasians built up a genetic profile of specific antibodies capable of defeating germs like smallpox, influenza, measles, mumps, and rubella.
In the Americas, there were no sheep, no goats, no cattle, no horses. In the Andes of South America there were llamas. That was it.
So, when Eurasian diseases hit the new world, they almost instantly destroyed it. Before Columbus, there may have been over 100 million people living in the Americas. But after European arrival, more than 90% of the indigenous population was wiped out. To make matters worse, the food supply collapsed as agricultural labor vanished. European diseases spread faster than the Europeans did. Often the peoples they conquered were reeling from earlier waves of attack, in viral form.
The other famous conquistador was Francisco Pizarro, who first explored modern-day Peru in 1524 and brought smallpox with him. It hit the local Inca population, and hard. It probably killed the Incan emperor, as well as his son, creating a power vacuum and – subsequently – a civil war.
The victor of that conflict, Atahualpa, would take the throne just in time for another visit from Pizarro in 1532.
With just 168 soldiers, Pizarro’s army defeated 80,000 Incans at the Battle of Cajamarca after an incident of remarkable cultural misunderstandings.
To the Incans who had never seen a horse or heard a gunshot before, it was all pretty terrifying. So, despite their numerical advantage, the Incan army collapsed as soldiers tried to flee. And if you were in their position, with quilted armor and slingshots for weapons, so would you.
The legacy of Pizarro’s conquest would be realized 13 years later, in the southern part of the old Incan Empire.
A guy by the name of Diego Hualpa was out walking on a mountain, possibly looking for a lost llama. He briefly lost his footing and grabbed onto a shrub for balance. The shrub came out of the ground. Beneath the soil, in the holes left by the shrub’s roots, was a sparkling precious metal.
Hualpa was standing on top of mountain of silver: 300 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 300 feet deep. It was so rich in silver as a percentage of the rock, the Spanish didn’t even know how to purify it. The locals showed them how it could be extracted with some low-temperature smelting, fueled by dry grass and llama dung.
The village around the mountain was quickly settled with a continually growing population. It was the Villa de Potosí, the site of the most important mine in all of history.
800 miles to the northwest was the mountain of Huancavelica, filled with mercury deposits. Mercury provided a new, more efficient way of purifying silver.
With that technique figured out, the Spanish decided they were done treating the natives like human beings. Instead, they turned the local population into forced laborers, mining Potosí of its silver. African slaves were brought in as well. The conditions were appalling. It’s possible that, over the years, 8 million people there were worked to death.
It was similarly gruesome at Huancavelica. When some of the graves there were dug up in 1604, officials found that, when the bodies decomposed, they left behind puddles of mercury.
The amount of silver extracted was insane. In one shipment in 1549, just four years after the discovery of silver there, more than 460,000 pounds of silver left Potosí. Over 2,000 llamas were needed to get it to the Ocean.
In all, more than 150,000 tons of silver were extracted from Potosí from the 1500s to the 1700s. Possibly much more. During those centuries, it was at least 80% of the world’s silver output. The inflation it created totally overwhelmed governments and financial institutions across the globe.
With all the new currency, international trade exploded, to Europe’s ultimate benefit. All sorts of agricultural commodities started flooding in to the continent previously known as the backwater of civilization.
Why is this moment so significant? Before the 1500s, Europeans had never smoked tobacco. The English weren’t drinking tea. The Irish weren’t eating potatoes. The chili peppers needed for spicy Thai food could only be found in Mexico. Same as the tomatoes needed for Italian sauces. The Swiss had no chocolate. Florida had no oranges. There were no Great Plains Indians hunting on horseback because there were no horses on the Great Plains.
But of all the goods circumnavigating the globe, two commodities really stand out.
The first was the potato. It could produce way more calories per acre than wheat and barley. With the potato came major population growth, enough to create more and more specialization in the European economies.
The second was cotton. Europe is too cold for cotton to grow there. But by importing it, the British would soon use cotton to transform their economy, and then the world.
It was all thanks to Spanish silver and, increasingly, to a new kind of farm. The plantation. And with the plantation came another new international trade: The slave trade.
For as long as history had existed, so too had slavery. The Sumerians and Egyptians had slaves, as did the Greeks and Romans. During the Dark Ages, the Vikings captured Eastern Europeans to sell to the Middle East. They were Slavs, and it’s how we got the English word, “slave.”
Slavery changed a bit with the rise of monotheism. Christians didn’t believe Christians should be slaves. Muslims didn’t believe Muslims should be slaves. But Muslims did have Christian slaves and Christians had Muslim slaves.
In fact, in the many edicts worked out for the Spanish and Portuguese, the Popes made the enslavement of Muslims an explicit goal of European exploration. This would be the second way the Inter caetera would shape the new world order.
The Spanish started setting up farms in the Canaries, as did the Portuguese in Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe.
Originally, these were supposed to be like the feudal estates of Medieval Europe. But on Madeira, the Portuguese realized they were in an ideal climate zone for growing sugarcane.
Sugarcane was first domesticated in New Guinea and it had been grown in the Middle East for centuries. Europeans had loved sugarcane ever since they found out about it during the Crusades. Now they were able to produce it for themselves.
And they produce it they did. A lot. Up went the sugarcane supply and, thus, fell the price. By the 1470s, planters scrambled to clear even more land and produce even more sugar so their share of profits would increase. What they were creating were plantations: big farms with direct access to ports to sell their harvests to faraway places. To maximize output, plantations focus on a single crop to produce on a massive scale. To prevent the crops from spoiling in transit, they usually need to be processed on site.
The plantation system requires a huge labor force for planting, harvesting, and processing. Demand for cheap labor outgrew the availability of it. So, without knowing the gravity of what was to come, the Portuguese sugar planters started importing slaves.
At first, these slaves belonged to all sorts of groups:
Children stolen from Jewish families during the Spanish Inquisition
Convicted criminals sentenced to indentured servitude
And of course, Muslims from northern and western Africa
But when the Portuguese set up new plantations at São Tomé, near the Equator, the nature of slavery changed.
Just like Native Americans never built up immunity to smallpox and measles, the European slaves never built up an immunity to tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever. They could not survive the conditions of tropical plantations.
But West African slaves could.
And when the Europeans started plantations in the tropics of the New World, they brought in West African slaves to work them too.
Why not the people native to the New World?
Almost from the beginning, Europeans questioned the ethics of enslaving indigenous Americans. Queen Isabella was personally horrified that Columbus was enslaving the people he found in the West Indies. By 1503, the Spanish crown had offered an alternative system: the encomienda system. Certain Spaniards were made trustees of indigenous groups, promising to ensure their safety, freedom, and religious instruction. In theory it was supposed to be like the old feudal system. In practice, it was more like Mafia racketeering.
But the Spaniards believed it was their duty to Christianize the people of this new world. And if they were going to become Christians, they couldn’t be slaves. In time, this became both Spanish and Papal law. Yes, it was often ignored. But we never got a wide-scale, trans-Atlantic, Amer-Indian slave trade.
But here’s the thing… If African slaves were forced to convert to Christianity (and they were) how could that slavery be justified over the generations? At first, European slave owners said the Africans had deeply lodged Islam into the hearts of their descendants, whether their descendants knew it or not. The Indians’ ancestors, meanwhile, never got the chance to accept or reject Christ.
But as the years went on, Europeans needed to develop increasingly racist ideas to justify the continued enslavement of black people.
Before I continue, I need to point out that the development of the construct of race, and the development of racism, are super-contested and controversial topics in academia. I’m not going to walk you through any theories here, only give you a few examples of things that did happen.
First, the Spanish in Mexico developed what’s called the casta system. They had become obsessed with tracking the continental origins of everybody’s ancestors. This included all sorts of new words to classify people based on what mix they were Spanish, Amer-Indian, African, and Asian. Looking at a casta system chart today, it’s pretty much impossible for us not to think, “boy is that messed up.”
But what’s even more messed up are the foundation myths of race-based slavery.
Perhaps the best-known is the Curse of Cham, based on an obscure story from the book of Genesis. In that story, Noah and his family survive the Great Flood, which nobody else survives. And after getting off his ark, Noah became a winemaker. One day he got drunk and passed out naked. This was seen by his youngest son, Cham. When Noah found out, he cursed Cham’s decedents to forever be servants to the descendants of his other sons.
From what we can tell, as early as the 16th Century, someone mistakenly thought “cham” meant “dark.” I imagine that some extraordinary confirmation bias then kicked in. A legend developed that Cham’s dark-skinned decedents went to Africa, and this was why God let Europeans enslave black Africans.
This twisted myth to justify slavery was especially popular with the plantation owners of the southern United States in the 19th Century – as well as some of their descendants well into the 20th Century.
Nearly 12 million human beings were moved from Africa to the Americas between 1500 and 1840, almost all against their will. Until the immigration booms of the 19th Century, the population of the Western Hemisphere was much more African than European.
The rise of Europe’s global empires, and the subsequent first industrial revolution, were fueled by the forced labor of black people on plantations across the new world. The industrial revolutions have transformed life on planet earth in so many positive ways. And yet, the benefits of industrialization have been disproportionately accumulated by non-black people. This will be among the many reasons why we cannot romanticize the last 250 years. The industrial revolutions have made our lives so much better, but they are rooted in gut-wrenching injustice.
This is Black History Month. I want you to think about this.
Right now, you’re most likely using a smartphone to listen to the podcast. You may be listening as you drive your car, or as you sit back on an airplane, or as you board an elevator, or as you stand on a subway. Maybe you’re walking or jogging through a city. If it’s in the developed world, it’s going to be one of the cleanest cities in human history, thanks to underground sewers and other infrastructure.
This entire experience you’re having is thanks to the industrial revolutions, kick-started in England, thanks to British access to raw cotton. Most of that raw cotton was picked in the Americas by a people stolen from their homes, deprived of their cultures, forced to work their entire lives without pay or dignity. They gave you this world for nothing. So, in case you were wondering, that’s why we observe Black History Month.
With all the silver coming out of Potosí, you’d think Spain would have dominated the world for the rest of time. Except, they never indexed the taxes they raised from silver mining to inflation – the very inflation the silver mining was creating. As a result, most of the silver would end up in China, while Spain slowly went broke.
Not understanding this, Spain spent money like crazy on European wars.
In the early 17th Century, they were a major belligerent of the Thirty Years War, a war they very much lost. The war ended with the Peace of Westphalia, one of the most important treaties in world history. Well, technically it was a few treaties. It solidified our modern state system with autonomous governments and clearly defined borders. It also created the new Dutch Republic. And now that they were free from Spain, the Dutch were ready to make their own big push into exploration and trade.
To pay for it, Dutch merchants pooled their money together to create ventures like the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West Indies Company. These outfits were Joint Stock Corporations, precursors to our modern multinationals. And the ownership shares for them could be traded in the new public stock exchange in Amsterdam.
By the 1600s, the Dutch were solidly Protestant, and they didn’t really care about which country got which territory hundreds of years earlier thanks to the Pope. The same went for another Protestant rival of Spain that was also getting ready to go exploring: England. Under Elizabeth I, the English boosted their Navy and built huge new dockyards. The designs of their warships were soon adapted for commercial use.
The English also created royal charters to encourage expeditions by giving the chartered companies exclusive trading rights with specific geographic areas. They chartered their own East India Company, the Levant Company, the Turkey Company, and the Russia Company. Just like the Dutch were finding, such expeditions required substantial investment, with money the government didn’t necessarily have.
You see, shipping was always a risky business. Shipwrecks were too prevalent for people to invest comfortably. But starting in Italy, in the 1350s, an arrangement of insurance was developed for shipping.
And by the start of the 1600s, standard insurance contracts became common as merchant shipping dominated economic activity in Europe. In the 1680s, at a London coffee house owned by one Edward Lloyd, maritime investors started meeting to hammer out the details of their insurance contracts. Lloyd’s of London still exists (in an evolved form) today.
Further advancements to insurance came in the 1740s, when a couple of Scottish Presbyterian ministers were trying to figure out how to look after the widows and orphans of their dead colleagues. They applied huge amounts of data and mathmatic principles to figure out premium annuities. These new methods of insurance helped create the economic stability for the very economically unstable world of the industrial revolutions.
But industrialization wasn’t just the product of well-meaning clergy. It was the product of what Sven Beckert calls “war capitalism.” Because in the lead-up to the first industrial revolution, the increasing competition between European powers intensified. The stakes were getting higher.
Trade was kept exclusive. The British Turkey Company couldn’t sell goods to the French colony of Martinique, for example. Companies were expected to keep trading rights exclusive with the kingdoms that chartered them. An East India Company would buy cotton to send back to the mother country in Europe, and then, perhaps, a merchant in that European country would ship it off to one of that country’s colonies. The result was the rise of global empires.
Britain, most famously, had colonies in so many places across the planet, it was said “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Their colonies included huge lands like Canada as well as small port cities like Hong Kong.
And the rise of imperialism meant a rise in demand for the tools of imperialism. Entrepreneurs like Maximilien Titon sold hundreds of thousands of flintlocks, which required some early industrial techniques for mass production. Scientists like Newton and Galileo were funded because of their work calculating trajectories for artillery projectiles.
Governments created debt markets to fund their armies, allowing investors to get rich off patriotism. This would be how London and Amsterdam became global centers of finance.
With ever increasing trade, banks were forced to innovate. The Swedish Risbank started using its deposits to make loans with relatively low reserves. While common practice today, this was a novel idea at the time, creating a credit market for increasingly-industrial entrepreneurs. And a new Bank of England would serve as a central monopoly for issuing banknotes, forever changing the way we see money. No longer would money be about processed metals. Now it was about relative value and growth.
And it would be in England – not China, not Italy, not Portugal, not Spain, not the Netherlands, but England of all places – where the age of global empires is going to lead us into industrialization. Why England? Well, let me tell you... next week, on the Industrial Revolutions.
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