Money is the root.

Thu, 27 Feb 1997 02:17:35 EST5EDT
Terry Boswell (

Two points seem to be missing in the recent discussion of the impact
colonial silver on the rise of Europe. First is the monetary effect
of the huge import of American silver, in effect an import of money,
into the Euroasian economy in the 16th and 17th centuries. The
discussion sometimes reads as if the European colonizers simply
bought global dominance. Adding money to a market causes inflation,
in this case, a massive inflation that lasts perhaps 150 years in W.
Europe. The long term inflation tended to commodify relations in
general and to favor merchants over producers, manufacturers over
landlords, and commercial states over landed states in particular.
The result was a fundamental transformation away from a slow changing
landlord dominated economy with limited monetarization, and toward an
ever expanding and increasingly commodified economy dominated by
commercial interests (I will avoid the "c" word in the hopes that
this time point does not get lost in a debate over semantics).

As far as I can tell, no comparable inflation occurs in E. Asia,
yielding a relative decline in the value of Asian goods, despite
what some suggest may have been a greater apriori degree of market
relations. One reason for this critical difference is that European
corporate merchants (especially the Dutch East India Co.) held a near
monopoly on the Euroasian trade. Moreover, they colonized the
"spice islands," capturing the massive profits at both ends. Other
explanations focus on Chinese state and class relations. Frank has
suggested some possible demographic factors as well, and one could
point to other reasons. Which combination of factors one highlights
is less important than recognizing that the result is the rise of W.

The second point, briefly, is that this fundamental transformation
occurs in the "long 16th century," not the 19th century. I do not
understand how Gunder and others can repeatedly and emphatically
insist on the central importance of American silver in the rise
of Euorpe, yet refuse to recognise the fundamental commercial
transformation it wrought.


(long distance merchants were
virtually guaranteed that

inflated prices at the end of a long voyage would exceed costs at the

Terry Boswell
Department of Sociology
Emory University
Atlanta, GA 30322