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Power, Capital, and Classes in the Middle East since 1945  

Ahmad Shokr

The history of postwar development in the Middle East began with a commitment by states to achieving national economic growth, industrialization, and the provision of social welfare. After some early experiments, state-led development began to gather pace across the region in the mid-1950s. Although conservative and revolutionary states stood on opposing sides of the Cold War, many of them pursued remarkably similar paths of agrarian reform, industrial development, and state bureaucratization. By the 1970s, republics facing political and economic pressures began to abandon their “socialist experiments,” while the oil revolution empowered Gulf states on the regional stage, hastened the adoption of neoliberal policies, and helped transform the global financial system. Since the late 1980s, war, debt and austerity, and the expansion of Gulf capital and influence again transformed the Middle East by exacerbating regional conflicts, reshaping local economies, and fostering new forms of social, economic, and geographic inequality.

Article

Trade in the Japanese Empire  

Timothy Yang

Insecurity and inequality (both real and perceived) have defined the Japanese Empire as an entity of trade. If one the primary goals of Japan’s leaders during the Meiji period (1868–1912) was to revise the so-called unequal treaties, then having an empire was seen as a necessary means towards achieving this end. From the very beginning, strategic concerns proved inseperable from economic considerations. Imperial expansion into neighboring territories occurred simutaneously and worked hand in hand with forging an industrial nation-state. The empire began with the so-called internal colonization of Hokkaidō and then the Ryūkyū Islands (Okinawa), followed by Taiwan and Korea, spoils of victory after the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, respectively. Taiwan and Korea represented Japan’s formal empire, and Japan developed these territories primarily as agricultural appendages—unequal and exclusive trading partners to provide foodstuffs for a growing, industrializing population in the home islands. As Japan developed its formal colonies toward a goal of agricultural self-sufficiency, it also pursued informal empire in China, which took shape as a competitive yet cooperative effort with other Western imperial powers under the treaty port system. World War I represented a turning point for imperial trade: At this time, Japan took advantage of a Europe preoccupied with internecine battles to ramp up the scope and scale of industrial production, which made Japan increasingly reliant on China—and particularly Manchuria—for raw materials necessary for heavy industry such as coal and iron. Japanese efforts to tighten its grip on China brought it into conflict with the Western imperialist powers and with a strengthening Chinese nation. Another major turning point was Japan’s 1931 takeover of Manchuria and the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo; these actions ended the treaty port system and sparked conflicts between China and Japan that broke out into full-out war by 1937. Although Japan was largely able to achieve agricultural self-sufficiency by the 1930s, it was unable to be fully self-reliant in essential resources for industry (and war) such as oil, tin, and iron. Resource self-sufficiency was a major goal for the construction of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in the early 1940s. The Japanese Empire officially ended with defeat in 1945.

Article

The Canton Trade, 1700–1842  

Paul A. Van Dyke

In 1684, China reopened its doors to trade with the outside world, which had a huge impact on the development of global commerce. Canton quickly emerged as one of the few ports in the world where everyone was welcomed and where everyone (except Japanese and Russians) had access to everything including tea, silk, and porcelain. Unlike other ports, individual traders in Canton could buy and sell the same high-quality products as those handled by the East India companies. As the Canton trade grew, international networks became more sophisticated; as more ships went to China, new forms of remittance such as Letters of Credit and Bills of Exchange became standard, which streamlined international finance; as more money flowed into Canton, more goods were distributed worldwide, which gave rise to globalization; as economies in both the eastern and western hemispheres became more integrated with the Chinese market, there was a parallel decline in the risks of conducting trade, which encouraged the advancement of private enterprise. One by one the large East India companies found it increasingly more difficult to compete and went broke. However, the success of the Canton trade was also its weakness. Because the legal trade was so dependent on silver collected from opium sales, and because a decline in opium sales would likely lead to a decline in rice imports, only minimal efforts were made by local officials to stop the smuggling. Foreigners were eventually able to overcome the system with the outbreak of war in the late 1830s, but this happened because the system had already defeated itself.

Article

Commodities and Consumption in Modern China  

Karl Gerth

How did the introduction and spread of countless new commodities and their consumption shape modern Chinese history? The intersection of commodities and consumption provides the flipside to the better-studied history of production and underlies countless topics at the center of Chinese and world history since the 19th century, such as imperialism, trade, industrialization, revolution, social hierarchies, and the ascendance of China as a global manufacturing and export superpower. Consumption includes the introduction and spread of mass-manufactured consumer commodities, the proliferation of discourse about these goods in new forms of mass media, and an ongoing shift toward creating and communicating hierarchical social identities through the consumption of mass-produced commodities. While consumption is often viewed as an individual matter, one related to creating personal identities, a key theme that emerges throughout modern Chinese history is that the Chinese states and elites have long sought to link commodity consumption with ideas of patriotism and national strength, helping shape what it means to consume commodities right down to the present.

Article

Capitalism, Growth, and Social Relations in the Middle East: 1869–1945  

Kaleb Herman Adney and Michael O'Sullivan

This contribution has three goals: one empirical, another historiographical, and still another methodological. The first is to provide a brief empirical survey of commercial developments across the modern Middle East in the period in question, with passing reference to their temporal and spatial parameters. The second is to reflect on historiographical trends and suggest avenues for further research related to these themes. The third is to stress the potential synchronicity between social history and macroeconomic frameworks in the study of commerce, time, and space in the Middle East. Both approaches tend to talk past each other, yet when integrated, they have the potential to breathe new life into scholarship on the political economy of the Middle East and, more broadly, the global South as a whole. More specifically, the present approach advocated here serves the purpose of revising dependency-theory narratives that present the 19th- and early 20th-century Middle East as irreversibly subordinated to a single world economy as a supplier of raw materials. Yet a more variegated picture emerges when the region is broken up into smaller geographic units, the temporal scale is compressed, and endogenous institutions are analyzed in tandem with global trends. Above all, when social relations are foregrounded as the touchstone of analysis, then a textured, context-specific narrative begins to emerge that both complements and unsettles the accepted wisdom of economic powerlessness. Furthermore, a diachronic account of economic transformation relates that commercial institutions, fiscal policies and capacity, and political reforms in the region frequently modulated and frustrated the logics of economic dependency. A diachronic account likewise draws attention to the demonstrable continuities in Ottoman and Qajar finance, trade, and labor practices from earlier centuries. Some of these continuities persisted into the interwar period. If market dynamics and the social relations inherent within a capitalist global economy are often framed as an imposition by Europe on the Middle East, when local and regional instantiations of capitalist processes are taken seriously, then the caricatures of an earlier historiography begin to give way. This article strikes a middle ground between narratives of subordination and dynamism, contending that the constraints upon economic growth in the Middle East need to be carefully considered, without losing sight of the social realities on the ground that shaped the Middle East’s integration into the global economy and the international state system.

Article

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Southeast Asia  

Peter Borschberg

The Dutch East India Company, also known by its historic initials VOC, was a chartered trading company that was active between 1602 and 1795. Formed by a merger of six smaller trading firms that traded in the East Indies and backed by a monopoly of trade, this proto-conglomerate emerged as a driving force in globalization, transregional investment, and early European colonization in Asia and Africa. The VOC operated as a profit-driven shareholder corporation and at the apex of its power, around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, maintained a series of factories and settlements stretching from Cape Town in Southern Africa, the Malabar and Coromandel coasts of India, Bengal, to insular and mainland Southeast Asia and as far as Taiwan (Formosa) and Japan. Chartered companies possessed considerable investments and infrastructure outside Europe, especially with their administrative apparatus, contacts, business networks, and trading knowledge. This in turn laid the foundations for Dutch imperialism during the 19th century.

Article

The Japanese Economy Since World War II  

Simon Bytheway

Japan’s remarkable postwar experience of economic reconstruction, growth, and development explains much of why it is so intensely studied in other countries today. In common with much of the world and particularly the advanced, capitalist economies of Western Europe, Japan prospered during the years of the long postwar boom (1954–1970). Reestablished by the Truman administration as the archetype of an anti-inflationist, export-based economy, Japan’s success is perhaps unsurprising. What is remarkable, however, is that Japanese economic growth and development continued right up until the 1990s, despite being forced to make abrupt “corrections” to the country’s basic monetary settings by the Nixon and Reagan administrations, changes that precipitated an eventual three-fold increase in the international exchange rate of the yen. Against the backdrop of rising petroleum and energy prices (or “oil shocks”), global inflation, systematic financial crises, widespread economic recession, and the vexing phenomena of stagflation in many of the more mature capitalist economies of the West, the Japanese economy thrived. Japan became the world’s second largest economy (in terms of nominal gross domestic product [GDP]) from 1968 until 2010 with a relatively small population (101 million in 1968 and 128 million in 2010). The fall of Japan’s economic standing from second to third place tragically coincided with the triple disaster of March 11, 2011: an earthquake and tsunami that struck along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The triple disaster, in turn, led to the fall of the non–Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Kan and Noda governments, a belated acknowledgement of Japan’s worsening demographic situation (chronic low birthrates with an increasingly elderly population) the re-election of the LDP Abe government, and the return of economic growth ideology in the form of Abenomics and its New Capitalism successor.

Article

South Asia in the Great Divergence Debate  

Kaveh Yazdani

Since the seminal publication of Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence (2000), there has been a continuing upsurge of writings on the possible reasons behind the rise of the West from a “global perspective.” Most of these studies focus on comparisons between Western Europe and China. Yet, in recent years works on India and the great divergence have followed suit, taking up research questions that have not been as prominent since the proliferation of debates on the subcontinent’s pre-colonial potentialities for capitalist development in the 1960s and 1970s. As of now, the paucity of quantitative data complicates endeavors to compare pre-colonial India with Europe and explore the underlying reasons behind the great divergence. Case studies examining the socio-economic history of a number of South Asian regions are still needed in order to conduct systematic comparisons between both advanced and underdeveloped regions of the subcontinent and those of Europe. The existing evidence, however, suggests that some of the "core areas" of 16th- to 18th-century India had more or less comparable levels of agricultural productivity, transport facilities (during the dry season), military capabilities in terms of ground forces (e.g., Mysore and the Marathas), commercial and manufacturing capacities (especially in textile, ship, and metal production), and social mobility of merchants (e.g., in Gujarat). Moreover, Indian rulers and artisans did not shy away from adopting European know-how (e.g., in weapon and ship production) when it redounded to their advantage. On the other hand, South Asia possessed some geo-climatic disadvantages vis-à-vis Western Europe that also impeded investments in infrastructure. India seems to have had a lower degree of consumer demand and lagged behind Western Europe in a number of fields such as mechanical engineering, the level of productive forces, higher education, circulation of useful knowledge, institutional efficiency, upper-class property rights, the nascent bourgeois class consciousness, and inter-communal and proto-national identity formations.