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New Left Review 53, September-October 2008

Tom Hazeldine on Ronald Findlay and Kevin O’Rourke, Power and Plenty. Selective account of a millennium of global trade, with force as market-maker from the Pax Mongolica to the Cold War.



Observing how the thirteenth-century Tartar invasion of Europe disrupted North Sea trade, glutting English stores, Edward Gibbon remarked: ‘It is whimsical enough, that the orders of a Mogul Khan, who reigned on the borders of China, should have lowered the price of herrings in the English market.’ [1] Ronald Findlay and Kevin O’Rourke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millennium, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2007, $39.50, hardback, 619 pp, 978 0 691 11854 3.Two things could be said to emerge from this. One is the considerable linkage of northern markets in the period, with the English fishery reliant on custom from Swedish traders. When in 1238 they failed to arrive, deterred from leaving port by news of Tartar conquests further east, desperate merchants were obliged to offload forty or fifty fish for a shilling. Hence a second point: the vulnerability of such networks to violent disruption. The harm done was incidental on this occasion, and the relationship between trade and armed force would become tighter—if not constitutive: Marx, after all, saw colonial expropriations as ‘the chief momenta of primitive accumulation’, and coercion as integral to the world economy under capitalism. By 1894, Max Weber could conclude that ‘unavoidable efforts at trade expansion . . . are clearly approaching the point where power alone will decide each nation’s share in the economic control of the earth’.

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Tom Hazeldine, ‘Plenty beyond Power’, NLR 53: £3

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