By Syed Ehtisham
elf-adjusting market is a Utopia and could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society.
Civilization springs from interaction of a great number of independent factors, not reducible to simplistic and self serving theories.
The balance of power system could not ensure peace once the world economy on which it rested had failed. Breakdown of civilization caused by the end of self-regulating market system was itself a result of social and technological upheaval of the 18th century AD.
A hundred years of Peace (1815-1914) unheard of in annals of history (except for Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, minor skirmishes and Crimean war) followed. Spain-Hungary Holy Alliance intervened in Europe and Ottoman’s Egyptian Empire broke up. China had to open doors to foreign traders. Africa was partitioned. Russia went into central Asia; England all over, France trying to be all over.
In the second half of the 19th century AD, peace was imposed by the banks, though grave causes of conflict persisted. It was due to balance of power, which had hitherto been maintained by wars (1).
In this period, peace interest was the new factor which did not exist before among the Churches or the governments.
Aftermath of the French revolution reinforced the industrial revolution and peaceful business as a universal interest. Matternich, Gentz, churches, monarchs all wanted peace.
Beneficiaries of peace were the cartels and feudal houses whose interests were threatened by wars. Interests, like intents’ remain platonic unless translated into politics by some social instrumentality.
The balance of power system intervened in German, French, Russian and Turkish conflicts. Small countries like Belgium and Norway were neutralized and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire duly arranged after 1878 (2).
The Holy Alliance provided ruling families with a civil service from the highest to the lowest rungs.
Concert of Europe followed it, it was only a loose con-federation; meetings were rare and jealousy rife. The core factor for peace was ‘haute finance’. It worked as the main link between political and economic organization of the world. Finance was independent of governments, central banks and diplomacy, though it was in touch and closely connected to them. Rothschilds epitomized it; they financed wars and were impervious to morality and loyal only to their firm (3). They were against a general war between great powers as it would interfere with the monetary system.
With only half a dozen national centers, organizationally haute finance was the nucleus of one of the most complex institutions in history (4). It financed private industries, gave loans to corporations and banks. Money markets dealt with a multitude of private, public, government finances and institutions.
Motive of haute finance was gain, and to that end it was necessary to keep in with the governments (true to day too, in fact it has advanced to owning government through a revolving door). Haute finance sought cooperation of national capital/finance and banks as activating centers for banker’s participation in syndicates and financial activity. Yet to a degree, it was independent of governments and was able to serve the interests of peace.
Haute finance had to contend with conflicting ambitions and intrigues of great and small powers. Business success was assured by the use of force against the weak, bribery and other underhand means. It had to avert general war and acted as a powerful moderator in counsels of smaller countries-loan and renewal of loan depended on good behavior (5). (It has not changed). Adoption of the Gold standard and balancing the budget became a necessity (6). City of London controlled smaller countries through their monetary network (7).
Haute finance administered the finances of semi-colonial Muslim states in Asia and Africa and controlled internal administration, (railways too) of the Balkan, Anatolia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Morocco and China (8). A general war between big countries was a threat to European capital.
Turkey defaulted on its loans in 1875; it had fought a war between
1876-78. Berlin treaty was signed in 1878, and Haute finance took over Turkish finance and served the money interests of creditors (Decree of Moharrem 1881) and capitalists who wanted to get profit from and out of the country (9).
Spread of capitalism was violent and finance capital the chief instigator of colonial crimes and aggression. Lenin, for its association with heavy industry, regarded it as responsible for imperialism (10). But it managed to avoid general war for a long time. Effective safeguards for continuance of peaceful business in war time were put in place. Confiscation of enemy property in belligerent territory was stopped; enemy sailors were released. (20th century AD reversed the trend, the US freezes accounts).
In early period, haute finance used the Church. In the later period it used the Concert of Europe which was limited to Europe; later it took over most of the world.
By the 4th quarter of the 19th century AD, international economic system became the axis of material existence of the human race. Continental peasants depended upon world commodity prices and business all over the world took note of London money markets.
Era of Bismarck (1861-90), the scheming aggressor of 1863-70 had become honest broker in 1870.
With actual use of Gold standard, protectionist and colonial expansion started and Bismarck lost control of policy (11). England was now the Peace Champion.
In the early 20th century AD, Concert of Europe ended and the continent divided into hostile camps.
The True Nature of the International System:
The true nature of international system was not realized till it had failed. When Gold standard broke, the effect was instantaneous. Even when the cataclysm was upon them, the leaders did not see that development in the most advanced countries made the system anachronistic.
Competition post WW I and obstacles to peace derived from the same sources, WW I had sprung from. Post war treaties and elimination of Germany from the competition eased the tensions. Unilateral disarmament of defeated nations forestalled restoration of the balance of power and could not be replaced by the League of Nations. Status quo lasted as long as exhaustion of parties lasted.
The League might have functioned but for the unanimity rule (12). Woodrow Wilson seems to have realized the interdependence of peace and trade. The League worked to restore international currency and credit. J.P. Morgan replaced Rothschild.
Central and East European upheavals of 1917-20 were merely a way of recasting the older regimes. Some countries achieved national freedom and land reforms commissioned in Western Europe since 1789. Russia was no exception.
In the 1930’s, the U.K dropped the Gold standard , Russia launched five year plans, League of Nations collapsed and the National Socialists took over in Germany (13).
Countries were classified according to soundness of currency. Russian, Austrian, Hungarian and German currency went down. Expropriation of the rentier class led to Nazi rule. Attempts at stabilization of currency failed and eventually USA currency went down too. Middle class was pauperized.
Financiers collected huge fortunes. Flight of capital caused fall of governments in France and Fascism in Germany. People became inflation conscious. Concept of financial sovereignty was shattered. Belief that bank notes have value, they represent gold, was universally accepted by the left, right and the center.
Russians, Germans and Austrians in turn restored value of their currency. Labor lost in the UK. Mussolini pledged to support the Lira. There was no divergence on the essentiality of Gold standard between Hoover, Lenin and Churchill (14).
As long as currencies of victors fluctuated, they continued to lend to defeated nations. When the UK and France reverted to Gold, safety of the Pound was questioned in the US. US support of the Pound meant lowered interest rates in the US, but US soon needed high interest rates due to inflation. Slump of 1929 was worse as inflation had been kept hidden (15).
US went off the Gold Standard in 1933 (16). Every international endeavor was directed to restoration of Gold standard. All but dogmatic Free Traders knew that foreign trade and payments would have to be restricted. Intent was Free Trade, but it was strangulated. The trend reversed with fall of Gold. Neither the League of Nations, not haute finance survived the fall of Gold standard. Rothschilds and Morgans disappeared from politics.
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In Capitalism, national groups and social institutions tend to have symbiotic relations with one another. Nations on the Atlantic seaboard and commercial revolution connected with capital, led to the rise to power of European nations and the USA.
Fascism and Socialism found a vehicle in Germany and Russia. The transcendent character of the movements should be viewed as detached from the national interest.
19th century civilization was comparable in effectiveness to the most violent outburst of religious fervor. It arose in England in the wake of industrial revolution in the first half of the 19th century, reaching the continent and the US fifty years later. Its weakness in the continent resulted in most tragic complications.
19th century was the English century because of the industrial revolution, market economy, free trade and gold standard.
The Havoc the Mills caused:
Great improvements in the tools of production in the 18th century AD led to the industrial revolution and great dislocation in common people’s lives (17). Common sense attitude towards change was discarded in favor of mystical readiness to accept social consequences of economic improvement.
Economic Liberalism judged social events from economic point of view and misjudged the history of industrial revolution. Plight of the people during Enclosure and Conversion movement demonstrates the parallel between the devastation caused by it and by the industrial revolution.
Enclosure was beneficial as long as the land was not converted to pasture. Land price and food supply went up. Even Conversion was not as detrimental as cottage industry spreading in the second half of the 15th century AD; sheep wool industry gave employment. It happened in Spain too in the 17th century, eroded soil never recovered from too much sheep farming. Economic progress was at the price of social dislocation.
Enclosure was the revolution of the rich against the poor, robbing the poor of their share in commons; it over burdened the soil, turning decent husbandmen into beggars and thieves. King in his council and clergy defended it, the anti Enclosure laws were wiped off the statuette books, which led to the dictatorship of Grazier lords. Peasant rebellion was defeated with slaughter of thousands (18).
Another trial of strength ensued a hundred years later, but now Enclosures were county gentlemen and merchants rather than the aristocracy. The crown used it against the aristocrats in the constitutional struggle. Parliament was on the side of Enclosures. Anti-enclosure legislation was ineffective (19).
Enclosure did lead to development of wool and cotton industry; but for government intervention the rate of change might have been ruinous. On the rate depended whether the dispossessed could adjust themselves to change and find employment alternatives.
The change took place before the advent of a Market System. Tudors and early Stuarts were progressive compared to Enclosers and slowed the process down till it became socially acceptable (20). They favored immigration, technology, statistics and curtailed ecclesiastical prerogatives.
The government of the Crown gave place to government by the class of commerce and industry. It took two centuries for England to regain socially responsible government and the devastation caused by the Enclosure Movement was repeated.
Before the process had advanced very far, laborers had been herded into slums called industrial towns and large parts of the country disappeared under scrap. It was the beginning of a radical and extreme change, but was utterly materialistic.
It entailed free institutions, expanding markets, machines, coal and iron, and humid climate which was favorable to cotton and invention of machines. As a result of dispossession numerous laborers were available, who worked long hours for low wages. Child labor had not been banned yet (21).
There was rise in the rate of growth of population. Concentration of industries led to factory towns and slums followed
Industrial capitalists would purchase necessary labor and raw material. Elaborate machines were expensive and not profitable unless large amounts of goods were produced with out interruption and raw material and reasonable sales assured. These conditions would have to be created in an agricultural society. The motives of gain must be substituted for that of subsistence in all money transactions. The system must be allowed to operate with out interference. Profits and prices must be self regulated in a market economy (22).
Market economy is directed by nothing but self regulating market prices. Institution of the market has been fairly common since the early Stone Age, though its role was incidental to economic life, till the 19th century.
Division of labor:
Division of labor was based on difference in sex, in geography and industrial endowment, barter, and exchange of dubious relationship. No economy of the past had been controlled or regulated by the market (23). Adam Smith’s axiom of the predilection of primitive man to gainful occupation was relevant to immediate future rather than to the dim past.
Since the development of the plough, till modern times methods of agriculture remained unchanged in Europe. Material conditions of Western Europe in 100 AD had not caught up with Romans of 1000 years ago, and were largely on the level of ancient India, Persia, China and in no way comparable to Egypt of 2000 years ago (24). Social anthropology proved Adam Smith right.
In a tribal society, individual’s economic interest was rarely paramount; all members were kept from starving unless by a general catastrophe. Social ties were crucial; with out acceptance of general code one was an outcast. All social obligations, frequency of commercial activities, eating and fruits of victory, were reciprocal. Premium on generosity was the greatest. Human passions were directed to non-economic ends. There was absence of the motive of gain or labor for remuneration. Man provided for his sisters and family. Substantial part of the produce was delivered to the chief, who gave them away during feasts, dances and inter-island visits. islands. They could function with out written records or bureaucracy because of symmetry and centrality.
The concept of pairing and duality helped symmetry. Each coastal village in Western Melanesia, Trobriand Island, has a sister inland and exchanged bread and fruit and fish. Each trader in Kula ring has a partner on the other side.
Kula traders worked on the principle of no money, no profit, hoarding or long term possession. They enjoyed giving away and were regulated by etiquette and magic. Islands formed a circle and large expeditions called Organzo were organized to carry objects from one place to another. White shell armbands and red shell necklaces would move around in a trajectory which may take ten years to complete; all run on reciprocity. Profit based market could not manage it. 24 a
Redistribution among hunter-gatherers- today’s giving was recompensed by tomorrow’s taking and was mediated by the headman in some tribes. Democracy prevailed.
Hammurabi’s kingdom in Babylonia and the New Kingdom in Egypt were centralized despotism (bureaucratic) based on redistribution (25). Patriarchal household made distribution according to grades. Vast warehouses for produce of the land, forests, cattle, hunt and cottage industry were registered in stores and transferred to Pharaoh’s court. All archaic kingdoms made use of metal for salary and taxes and for the rest payment in kind for non-producing officials, army etc.
The same principle held in feudal- India, China, Inca and Babylonia-feudalism of land or cattle- society in South Africa, unequal distribution between various strata.
In Western Europe it advanced to the political level; vassal needed protection and gave tribute.
House holding-individuals collecting food or hunting for self and family became a feature of the most advanced agricultural society, but had nothing to do with gain or market and was confined to groups. Institution’s nucleus may be sex-male, female, village or manor and may be despotic internally like Roman familia or Slav Zadriya, great or small.
2,000 years ago Aristotle, referred to house holding and money making in politics (26). It was most prophetic . House hold production was for use, not gain. Sale of surplus need not destroy its essence as long as done on the same form. As long as market and money were merely accessories to a self sufficient household, production was for use.
In that century, Delos and Rhodes developed emporia for freight insurance. Aristotle did not recognize the implications of its connections with the market and money, loans and Giro banking, which was not to develop in Europe for nearly 2,000 years.
Distinction between use and gain is the key to different civilizations.
Economic system till the end of feudalism in Europe depended upon reciprocity, redistribution, household or a combination to the two institutionalized with symmetry, centrality and autarchy. Custom, law, magic religion kept people in line.
16th century on wards markets were many and important, and under the mercantile system it was the main job of government. But the market did not control man yet. It was regulated and regimented. For control it had to wait for the 19th century.
Evolution of the Market:
Capitalist economy is dominated by the market and barter and exchange are significant. The market pattern is only capable of producing a specific institution-the market. Society is run as an adjunct to the market; social relations embedded in the market rather than the other way round. A market economy can only function in a market society which would allow the system to work according to its own laws.
It was not realized that gearing the market into a self regulating system was not the result of any inherent tendency, but the effect of an artificial stimulant to social order by the machine.
R.C. Thurnwald in Economics in Primitive Communities, “Markets are not found everywhere, their absence while indicating a certain isolation is not associated with any particular development that can be inferred from their presence” (27). The mere fact that tribes used money differentiated them very little economically from other tribes on the same cultural level, who did not use money.
External trade was initially more in the nature of adventure, exploration or piracy.
At a later stage markets become predominant in external trade, to carry goods that were absent in the region; English wool for Portuguese wine, local exchange between town and countryside (perishable goods) and foreign trade between different climatic zones. Internal trade was competitive.
Types of trade:
External markets developed at ports, river-heads and fords. Local markets often remained separate.
From the start the local markets were surrounded by a number of safeguards to protect them from interference of market practices by paying the price of rituals and ceremonies. Towns also kept them expanding into the country side. Local markets were essentially neighborhood markets and not starting points of internal or national trade
Right up to the time of commercial revolution, what seemed to be national trade was actually municipal. Nations were loose political units of innumerable smaller or bigger households and insignificant local markets. Trade was limited to townships and was strictly segregated into neighborhoods and long distance trade.
Internal trade was created by state intervention.
Urban civilization-a brief outline:
The town was an organization of Burgesses, who alone had citizenship rights.
Neither peasants nor merchants were Burgesses. Burgesses could control peasants but not foreign merchants, so their position was different for local and long distance trade.
Food supplies had no middlemen and transactions were too public to regulate. But long distance trade like spices and salted fish were in the domain of the foreign merchants and capitalist practice. Foreign traders were, though, prohibited from retail sale.
Separation was stricter in industrial wares. In craft guilds, products were regulated to the needs of producers. Export was controlled by corporations of crafts. Cloth trade (the dominant one) was organized on lines of capitalistic wage labor.
Towns put up a struggle against privatization of industrial/national markets by maintaining non-competitive local and long distance town to town trade.
State action in 15-16th century AD focused the mercantile system on protectionist towns. It broke down the barrier between local and long distance trade.
Centralized state was a new creation of commercial revolution which brought the center of gravity of the West from the Mediterranean to Atlantic Sea board. Traditional municipal system was extended to the whole state. In France, craft guilds became state organs. In England, walled cities/towns had decayed so the countryside industrialized without guild supervision. Trade spread all over in both countries.
Competition led to monopoly which was feared as it concerned necessities of daily life and the state had to deal with both. State regulation was extended from municipal to national level.
The new national markets were inevitably competitive and the feature of regulation prevailed. National market some times overlapped the local and foreign markets.
Freeing of trade preferred by mercantilism liberated it but extended regulation. The economic system was submerged into social relations.27 a.
Rise of Self Regulating Market:
Regulation and market grew up together. Self regulation was a complete reversal of the earlier trend. Market economy assumes that human beings want to achieve maximum gain. In the system controlled and regulated by market price/product, redistribution is entrusted to self-regulation and assumes that goods and services at a definite price will equal demand. It also assumes presence of money and purchasing power. Commodity price is the difference between the price of goods produced and their cost.
Nothing must be allowed to inhibit formation of markets. Neither price nor supply nor demand are fixed and regulated. Only policies and measures which make market the only organizing power in economic sphere are permissible.
Under the feudal and guild system, labor and land are a fixed part of social organization. Land is the basis of military, judicial, administrative and political systems; status and function are determined by law and custom.
The same was true of labor; relationship of master-apprentice, journey man, terms of craft and wages were regulated by the guild, town and custom. The mercantile system unified it by statute in England and guilds were nationalized in France. Up to the 1789 revolution, land/estates remained the source of privilege in France. Craft guilds and feudal privileges in France were taken away only in 1790 (28).
England was medieval. Mercantilism never attacked land and labor. The 1563 Statute of Artificers and the 1601 Poor Law removed labor from the danger zone (29). Mercantilists, feudalists, the crown and bureaucrats agreed with the policy. Only the conservatives disagreed on methods of regulation. They were averse to commercialization of labor and land; a pre-condition of mercantilist economy. Artificers Law was repealed in 1813-14, the Poor Law in 1834 (30). Free labor was not over-discussed till the last decade of the 18th century AD. Mercantilists developed resources, fueled employment and an enlightened despotism. Democracy involved a complete reversal of this trend; self regulation involved a complete transformation of the society.
Self regulation demanded separation of economic from political sphere. Neither tribal, nor feudal nor mercantilist was a separate economic system in society. A market economy must comprise all elements of industry, labor, land and money; that is subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.
The Effect of Market on Society:
The concept of commodity gears the market to industrial life. Commodity is objects for sale; market is for contact between producers and sellers. There must be markets for all elements of industry. Markets interconnect into one big market.
Labor, land and money are essential parts of the market, but are obviously not commodities; they are not produced for sale and money is a token of purchasing power. The three are thus fictitious commodities.
The commodity fiction supplies a vital organizing principle in regard to all society, the principle that no arrangement be allowed which prevents the function of the market on the lines of the fiction.
To allow the market to be the sole director of human beings and their environment would result in demolition of society. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from social exposure, through vice, crime, perversion and starvation. Nature would be defiled, rivers polluted. Marked instability of purchasing power would liquidate business enterprise as shortage/surfeit of money would act on business like floods and drought to agriculture.
Up to the end of 18th century AD, industrial production in Western Europe was a mere accessory to commerce. As long as the machine was inexpensive and unspecific, this situation continued. It was the invention of elaborate and specific machinery and plant that changed the relationship of merchant to production and led to the development of the factory system. Industrial production now involved long term investment and related risks and continuance of production had to be reasonably assured. The more complicated the industry, the more elements of supply had to be safeguarded, most importantly land, labor and money. They had to be made available for purchase as commodities.
Labor is the technical term for human employees. Human society has become an accessory of the market. Economic improvement is bought at the cost of social dislocation, which if at too great a rate, succumbs.
Nothing saved the common people of England from the devastating impact of the industrial revolution. Markets spread all over, but actions taken to check them had effect on land, labor and money.
Ricardo and Malthus asserted that nothing more real than material good. Only Owen thought of human possibility limited by laws of society, not that of the market.
Labor organization rested on the Poor Law and the Statute of Artificers, employed settlement of 1662 which restricted mobility. Artificers remained in force for 250 years, it entailed enforcement of labor with 7 year apprenticeship, yearly wage assessment by officials based on cost of living was repealed in 1814.
Beggary was severely punished. Repeated vagrancy was a capital offense. Under the Poor Law of 1601, able bodied were put to work supplied by the parish, out of funds raised by rates and taxes.
In 1795, Parish serfdom was abolished. In the same year enforcement of labor reversed. Act of Settlement was repealed to allow labor market. Speenhamland relieved workers of responsibility to make a living.
Capitalism arrived unannounced; machine industry came as a surprise. Beneath the surface, rural pauperism was linked with economic history. There was a plethora of irrational causes forwarded for pauperism-tea, beer, bread, high and low wages.(CC)
Author has published two books, ”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one.