Word Count: 1726IntroductionWhen we look at the current state of the global political economy, there are manycontending perspectives that have been promulgated over the years by variousinfluential figures from competing schools of thought. Therefore, in order for us tograsp a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the contemporary globalpolitical economy, we have to first adopt an eclectic approach towards studying thehistorical context of the events that transpired which have led us to the currentstate of affairs. In this essay, I argue that in order to attain a fair and well-balanced understandingof the global political economy, we have to first take a look at what I believe to bethe single largest driving force in shaping the current state of it, which is that ofEuropean colonialism. Many of the existing structures, political or economic, as wellas the societal inequalities we see today in trade, production, finance, development,labour and gender, amongst others, can all be traced back to the lasting legacies ofEuropean colonialism. This essay seeks to explore the various events which haveoccurred along the path-dependent nature of the rise of the global economy whichhas brought us to the current state of its evolution. In addition, this essay will alsoattempt to view European colonialism through the lens of the three major globalpolitical economy theoretical frameworks, namely Economic nationalism, Liberalismand Marxism.Rise of the Early Colonial Powers and the Global Economy1
During the historical emergence of the global economy beginning in the 15thcentury, several European powers, namely Portugal and Spain and later on Holland,France and Great Britain, launched attacks on the foundations of societies in whichthey ventured into. These powerful nation-states were driven by mercantilism whichmeant that they made sure to secure their own interests at the expense of otherstates. They refrained from trading with other colonial powers but instead strove toestablish empires overseas. Wherever their explorations took them, they wieldedtheir military and economic power over the native groups and began to establishpolitical structures to gain control over them, occupying the land with their settlersand exploiting them economically. In addition, these colonial powers completelyrevamped local cultures by introducing their own language, religion, as well as theirWestern political ideologies. (O’Brien & Williams, 2015, p. 51) In this part of theessay, we will look at two notable examples in history whereby early colonialpowers forcefully expanded their empires at the expense of indigenous populations.The first example that will be analysed is the trans-Atlantic slave trade which tookplace between Africa, Europe and the Americas from the 16th century to the 19thcentury. Beginning with the Portuguese’s’ search for a maritime route to sub-Saharan Africa to secure gold, the economic interaction between Europe and Africaeventually morphed into the exchange of textiles, firearms, tobacco and metal forslave labour. (O’Brien & Williams, 2015, p. 54) The enslaved Africans were thenshipped across the Atlantic Ocean and sent to the Americas in huge droves to eitherwork on cotton plantations or as gold and silver miners. While many slaves lost theirlives during the inhumane transportation process or while working on theplantations, plenty more were sent over from Africa to replace them. This2
horrendous economic activity which reduced the enslaved Africans to mere cogs inthe wheel formed one side of what we now term as the ‘triangular trade’. (O’Brien &Williams, 2015, p. 55) The products of their labour were then exported back toEurope for large profits. This created large fortunes for the European elites on thebacks of slave labour. Looking back now, despite the contrasting effects that thetransatlantic slave trade had on different African countries at that point in time, as awhole, Africa suffered immensely from the slave trade as its political economy wascompletely restructured while millions were sent away to another continent. The second case we will look at is the colonisation of India by Britain through the18th century. The colonisation of India was a huge success for Britain which thenprovided them with the resources to expand their global empire. What first beganwith the British East India Company’s participation in Indian trade as a means ofpaying their dividends eventually led to the complete restructuring andreorganisation of the Indian economy as a huge self-financing state apparatus forthe British. (Bagchi, 2009, p. 102) Indian agriculture was switched to export cropsthat benefitted Britain such as sugar, opium, tobacco and indigo, whereas a seriesof British-imposed policies and actions severely decimated the once-thriving textileindustry in India, beginning the process of the deindustrialization of India. All thiseventually culminated in the British government relieving East India Company fromruling India in 1858 and instead taking direct control over the country. By 1913,India’s output of world manufactures had drastically fallen to 1.2% of the globaltotal. (Bagchi, 2009, p. 103)3
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