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Notes and Excerpts from The World that Trade Created





p. xi   “In fact these essays serve as an important corrective to a tendency in academic economics and popular media to abstract markets from human motive and agency.”




p. xiii  “When fifteenth-century China began replacing depreciated paper and copper currency with silver, it set into play forces that would affect remote peoples on five continents. . .”


p. xiv “Although globalization has today reached unprecedented proportions, there is really nothing new about the new World Order. Nor is diversity a recent invention. The object of this book is to describe, through a series of stories, the long-standing inter-connectedness of the world.”



pp. xiv-xv “This book is not simply a collection of the articles however. Rather it is unified by several central propositions on the nature of the world economy and the forces that shape it.”

 1) “We reject a Eurocentric teleology that sees Europeans as the prime movers and everyone else responding to them; . . . “

2) “Consequently, politics have been as central to shaping international commerce as economics have been.”

3) “The market structures that are basic to our world were not natural or inevitable, always latent and waiting to be ‘opened up’; rather, markets are, for better or worse, socially constructed and socially embedded. . . .In other words, goods themselves have ‘social lives’ in which their meaning, their usefulness, and value are in flux; ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ are culturally determined by people with loves, hatreds, and addictions, not by reified ‘market forces.’”

4) ”Success in this complex social, political and economic arena came to the successful, not necessarily to the most virtuous, hard-working, or clever. That is, the world economy has not been a particularly moral arena.”

5) “Finally, it is necessary to understand both the local specificity of a transaction or event as well as its international context to appreciate its importance.”


(The texts are not numbered in the book. I have added the numbers here.)


p. xv “We eschew a Eurocentric position while also avoiding simple-minded anti-imperialism. That is Europeans and North Americans were neither especially gifted, nor especially vile.”



Table of Contents



  1. The Making of Market Conventions


p. 3  “Acquiring a particular good, or sending it to others was (and still is) sometimes a way of making a statement about who a person or group was or wanted to be, or about what social relationships people had or desired with others, as much as it was a way of maximizing strictly material comfort. And because economic activities are social acts, they bring together groups of people who often have very different cultural understandings of production, consumption, and trade.”


  1. The Tactics of Transport


p. 45 “Whether on land or on water, natural constraints mattered. Except where geography was unusually favorable, it was mostly products with high price-to-bulk rations that were worth shipping long distances: silks, gold and silver, sugar, and medicinal herbs, not wheat limestone, or wood.”

p. 46 “Nature also shaped the rhythms of trade and the places where it was conducted by constraining transportation.”

p. 47 “But even if geography and meteorology shaped pre0industrial transport- and thus economies- their rule was not absolute.”

p. 48 “Steam and the railroad would scramble the world’s trade geography in the nineteenth century.”

p. 49 “By vastly increasing the speed and volume of the carrying trade while dramatically slashing prices, railroads and steamships set into motion a conceptual revolution in time, space, and commodification.”

p. 50 “Thus transportation not only determined profit, loss, and volume of trade.. It created neighbors, shaped the sense of time, redrew the maps, and unleashed the conceptual revolutions known today as commodification and globalization.’



  1. The Economic Culture of Drugs


p. 77 “The fact is that historically, goods considered drugs, that is, products ingested, smoked sniffed, of drunk to produce an altered state of being, have been central to exchange and consumption. What has changed is not the commercial and social value of these goods, but the definition of ‘drug.’”

p. 78 “In the seventeenth century affluent people all over the world began to drink, smoke and eat exotic plants that came from long distances. Coffee, tea, cocoa, tobacco, and sugar all became popular at roughly the same time. Both European and Asian consumers became addicted to these American, Asian, and African products. . . Although today advocates of free trade except drugs from the free circulation of goods, in fact the plants that gave birth to the modern world economy were considered drugs.”




  1. Transplanting: Commodities in World Trade


p. 109 “The following section contains stories that focus on the trade some specific animal or vegetable product: cocoa, cotton, tea, rubber, and so on. But just because these products occurred in nature does not mean that their usefulness was obvious, or even stable over time. Often they emerged only after other advantages had attracted people’s attention to an item . . . Yet as they became global commodities, they inevitably came to have a value and a meaning different from their role in a local ecosystem . . . and from the values and meanings they had had in a local social and cultural system. It is the ways in which the clashing meanings and values reshape both the natural and social world the commodity comes from and the ones it moves into that we focus on. “

p. 112  “So changes in what certain commodities were used for and struggles over their control go way back: but both were probably greatest from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries.”


  1. The Economics of Violence


p. 147 “Commerce has often been seen as a civilizing passion, a doux commerce, that obviates the need for violence. . . . This rosy picture of the healthy effects of the spread of market economy unfortunately hides the historic foundation of violence upon which it was built and the continuing use of force that persistently underlay it, particularly in the non-European world.”

p. 152 “It turns out that warfare and economic growth, particularly industrialization, are not contradictory. As President Eisenhower recognized when he warned of the power of the ‘military-industrial complex’ war can be good for industry.”

p. 153 “Not only has violence been one of the main levers of accumulating wealth in the global economy, warfare has been a mother of invention.”


  1. Making of Modern Markets


p. 179 “For a true world economy to come into being, with vast amounts of commodities, capital and technologies traveling around the globe, laws and practices had to become more predictable and universal. Standardization and impersonal relations were key conceptual changes. . . In involved concepts that have become so embedded in our everyday lives that we cannot conceive of their not existing or of their being socially invented: time as a commodity, gold as money and the measure of all things, consistent and translatable standards and measurements, sacrosanct property rights, limited liability corporations, product packaging, corporate trademarks.. Each of these would have been strange to people only two hundred years ago.”


  1. World Trade, Industrialization, and De-Industrialization


“Today we still have little consensus on exactly how industrialization- the movement of most the work force out of agriculture, fishing and forestry, into jobs where they used increasingly powerful mechanical devices to transform objects- occurred, or what role trade played in that transformation. The effects of trade between already industrialized areas and those that are still primarily agrarian are even more controversial- in particular, under what circumstances did such trade make it easier or harder for the “less developed” trading partner to industrialize itself? Since today, virtually all prosperous economies are industrial (or postindustrial), this question is one version of a still more basic one: does participation in international trade really benefit all parties, or do inequalities of wealth and power cause some participants to lose out? The historical complexities of this question stem in part from the fact that very few countries have ever done in practice what elementary economic theory tells them is obviously good for them: namely, institute free trade with all other countries regardless of relative levels of development.”