A millennia worth of maps here, mapping the world of trade that grew out of the age-old trading routes, many of them made by mercantilism (for better, and often for worse), that destructive idea that the object of trade is to build up hoards.
What is real trade built on? It’s built on difference: you produce cotton, gems and steel, we make cloth, glassware and instruments – and in trading what we do best we both win. So it has been since the world began. You produce what you’re best at and I’ll do the same, and by virtue of the Law of Association we’ll both win. That’s the very basis of trade: the way for Southern Europeans to get them all eight-hundred years ago (when one good shipment meant your fortune) was to produce wine:
And in New Zealand now we grow grass, and with it buy all the things the world produces. It almost seems miraculous, this splendid exchange (what some of us call “the miracle of breakfast”), so no wonder to this day so few fully understand it.
Just think, a “splendid exchange” that eventually wiped out even those stains on the map marked “slaves” -- a whole world built on the Double “Thank-You” Moment …
PS: A very readable history here of How Trade Shaped the World:
[Hat tip Duncan B.]
UPDATE: The tragedy of mercantilism outlasts its destructive period when the notion that building up gold and not goods was the key to the wealth of nations.
Examine the map below, at the start of this period, just as Europe was beginning to usurp the Middle East as the centre of world commerce (i.e., just after the period when “east of the Mediterranean and Black Sea ports, almost all the rest of the world economy was operated by Muslim merchant networks”).
So based on the pursuit of gold rather than goods, western Europe sent their finished goods not in trade to the Middle East or Asia who could havesent back things of value, but to darkest Africa who produced virtually nothing but slaves to dig bullion out of American mines.
Half a millennia hence, we’re still paying historically for that rupture of natural trading partners and the global export of inhumanity, not to mention the wealth squandered in seeking gold and silver instead of goods.