Thursday, October 1, 2009

Age of Empire 1

The first couple of chapters of Hobsbawm detail the rapid industrial, economic, and population growth of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The world of the late 19th century was increasingly global, as most regions of the world had been mapped out and the necessity for discovery was no longer present save interior regions of Africa, Asia, and South America. Vast improvements in technology and communication served as driving forces behind the rapid globalization. In addition, there were simply just more people. Many of these people immigrated to the “younger” regions of the world, like the Americas and some of the other “colonies.” As population size increased and the undiscovered regions of the world decreased, the world was seemingly becoming more tightly bound. While this bond was true in a geographic and perhaps demographic sense, a large gap was rapidly forming between the “West,” which was experiencing economic and industrial revolution, and the rest of the world. In fact, “the per capita GNP was…about seven times as high [comparing the West and the Third World] in 1913.” Another reason for this disparity is major differences in technology that were exploited not only within economic advancements but politically through military force. Perhaps the most notable difference between advanced and backward countries was cultural, as major distinctions revealed themselves through educational, political, and other forms of intellectual life.

Despite the rapid growth in population, industry, and the overall economy, there is also a valid argument for a global depression taking place during this time. There was a noticeable decline in prices, profits, and interest rates, especially in areas like agriculture, which suffered at the expense of free trade. Many countries thus turned to protectionist policies, with the notable exception of Great Britain, which lacked a large peasant class to reinforce protectionism and also had a massive investment in worldwide trade through their colonial empire. These developments were only a few of many transformations of the economy, including mass production and distribution, growth of the commercial sector, and the fusion of economics and politics.

This contrast between the two sectors of the world is fascinating because of how rapidly the gap evolved between developed countries and the third world. Europe, as we know, was once a developing region within the world system. Now, a few centuries later, it stood at the forefront of the world economy. Additionally interesting was the development of global competition as other countries rose to power. In the thirteenth century world system, no one power dominated another as all were interdependent within the trade structure. By the nineteenth century, advanced transportation and communication had led to increased globalization. As a result, the world was no longer interdependent but rather very competitive, eventually leading to the First World War.

A topic I would like to discuss more is the contradictory effects of capitalism, as it successfully fueled some economies while left many others searching for alternatives. Capitalism by its very nature is international, as it relies on an international division of labor to facilitate free trade. Why did an international system not work in an increasingly international world?

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