Power and Plenty | Ronald Findlay

Summary of: Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium
By: Ronald Findlay


Prepare to journey through the vast history of global trade as we dive into the book ‘Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium’ by Ronald Findlay. The summary explores the world throughout the centuries, covering the crucial role of trade even as far back as the year 1000. Eight key regions, including Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, will help you understand the impact of political, economic, and social changes on global commerce. Discover how wars, religious conflicts, and technological advances have shaped and reshaped the world economy. Let the story of each region elucidate the complexities of trade, conflict, and power struggles that have been central to globalization’s ebb and flow.

The Roots of Globalization

Globalization has a long-standing history that stretches back to the first millennium. The world economy has always been shaped by political, economic, and social upheavals, and global trade has existed for centuries. In the year 1000, eight regions participated in international trade to varying degrees, including Western Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. The process of globalization was not seamless; goods moved around the globe by land or sea, and looters threatened overland trading in Central Asia. The prevailing winds also posed a challenge for ships transporting cargo destined for the international market. Despite these challenges, the roots of contemporary globalization can be traced to millennia of uneven economic development.

Trade and Conflict in Medieval Times

In this period, the Muslim world led commerce and technology, while a prolonged struggle among the leading European powers to control the resources, territory, and trade of the New World ensued. The Crusades spurred the transfer of technology from East to West, and the Mongol empire created a 100-year Pax Mongolica, stimulating trade with Western Europe. Mongol dominance paved the way for trade and created an efficient way for germs to travel to new places, which spawned the Black Plague. However, this era of global disease spurred technological advances such as the printing press and transformed Western Europe into a major force in international trade, with Venice and Genoa dominating it in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Rise of European Trade

At the beginning of the 16th century, Italy dominated European trade until Portugal and Spain opened new global trade routes to Africa and North America through seafaring exploration. Portugal sold African slaves in Europe and captured Canary Islands natives to work as sugar farmers. They monopolized the Indian Ocean spice trade and plundered the Indian subcontinent. Spain pioneered transatlantic trade routes and discovered gold, animal hides, dyes and other products. In the late 1500s, the Dutch rose to prominence in international trade with their maritime expertise and mercantile zeal, building a huge lead and investing in military might to defend against Spain. Holland’s growth led to the decline of Venice and Genoa as major ports of entry for Asian goods. These European countries rose to power by ruling by force, gaining a significant position in the new world economic system.

The Battle for Supremacy

The book snippet describes how Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and France fought for control over the Americas in the 17th century. Britain started by colonizing Ireland before expanding its empire to Jamaica, which became a profitable sugar plantation thanks to the labor of African slaves. Even though some British leaders had doubts about New England, the Pilgrims thrived and developed a diverse economy. As Britain’s economy improved, it competed with the Dutch over trade, leading to three wars that were eventually resolved by trade compromises. The growing importance of the New World shifted the balance of economic power to Europe, while in China, the Pax Manchurica caused a population boom. Overall, the 17th century saw the transformation of the world’s economic structure.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution caused a significant change in Europe’s quality of life, but it also brought about suffering and poverty. While there is academic debate over whether it was revolutionary, the years from 1760 to 1830 were a catalyst for sustained economic growth worldwide. Notable advancements include iron, coal, and textiles production, with the cotton industry benefiting the most. Uniquely, despite a growing population, living standards also improved in Britain during this period.

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