Origins of the Modern World Analytical Paper

Origins of the Modern World

The old biological regime describes the way people made their livelihoods and achieved their status through their interactions with the land. In the 1400s, the global population was about 350 million people, 80% of whom were peasants. Consider that that figure represents about six percent of the current global population of about 6 billion people. In the years between 1400 and 1800, the population doubled, reaching about 720 to 750 million people. With so many people dependent on farming to make a living, producing crops for subsistence and selling the agricultural surplus to people who were non-agricultural, growth was constrained. The amount of arable land that was available determined the productivity of the land, with both factors working in tandem to influence population size. The people living on the land adapted to their environment, with population growth serving as an indicator of adaptive success. The degree of intensification that could be accomplished was a function of the carrying capacity of the land. One difficulty is that as the population grows, and is taken to mean that people have successfully adapted to their dependence on the attributes of the land they inhabit, the population can increase so much or so fast that the land and the systems that enable people to benefit from the land are overwhelmed. At some point, the demands of the population cross over the capacity of the land to meet the collective demands.

One critical way that the demands of a population impact the capacity of the land to meet their demands is climate change. The pre-modern population increased around the world and industrialization altered the way huge masses of people made their livings. New and more efficient methods of transportation enabled global trade networks to be established. New food crops and trade in agricultural commodities were also part of these changes, which made different types of demands on the land, such as irrigation systems, concentrations of single types of crops which increased vulnerability to plant diseases.

Population patterns of density and dispersal are integral to concepts related to adaptability. In the 1400s, the most densely populated areas corresponded to civilizations that are considered to be the most highly developed — about 15 specific civilizations / areas are recognized in this group. Because of the favorable attributes of particular regions of dry land mass, the population in the 1400s clustered on about seven percent of the land, or 4.25 million square miles out of the total 60 million. Intriguingly, 70% of the 2003 global population still inhabit the same seven percent of the land. Indeed, the most densely populated population centers were and are China, at 25 to 40% of the global population, Europe, at 25% of the global population, and India, at 20% of the global population.

The congregation of populations in disparate regions conditioned the opportunity for the development of a trading system. The systems that characterized the post-1500s arose out of the old system; indeed, specialization such as that which developed from new agricultural crops and methods were associated with increased productivity and population growth. Similarly, marked inequality was shaped by factors such as access to and control of water, geography and negotiated egress, and tribal affiliations and territorialism. Three dominant trade systems developed that established linkage and overlap driven fundamentally by the population clusters and the influence of natural trade routes. North and West Africa linked with the Middle East and European systems; East Africa linked with the East Asia system. The Middle East is known as the Mongolian subsystem and includes central Asia, India, and the links the eastern Mediterranean with Eurasia. The European subsystem consisted of the core areas of the Italian city-states. The East Asia subsystem included China, equatorial Southeast Asia, and the Indonesia and Malaysia, which were known as the Spice Islands.

Three primary trade routes developed to facilitate exchanges between the markets of these subsystems. The northern trade route was known as the Silk Road. The central trade route went from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean. The southern trade route went from Cairo to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The new intense trade relations that developed from these early trade routes were part of three substantive developments that ushered in the new world of 1500 to 1775. Access to goods through trade and to raw materials through conquest supported the continued growth and vitality of empires. Sovereign states grew during this period and interstate war occurred in Europe. Competition (mercantilism) heated up and national economic development was favored in Europe. These factors played strongly in the emergence of the future global political order.

Compared to Asia, during the period from 1500 to 1800, Europe experienced a substantial competitive disadvantage. European regions suffered from less productive agriculture and from political fragmentation. Interstate warfare resulted in the consolidation of 500 states to just 30 states, and in the substantive reduction of the populations. Europe also experienced lower economic and manufacturing output. The production of porcelain, spices, stimulants, and textiles was roughly two-thirds of all the global manufacturing output occurring in Asia at the time. Europeans focused on a several appealing exports, such as fish, linen, mean, timber, and woolens.

The biological old regime resulted in limits to growth by the 1700s. The empires had become unstable, there was a shortage of land, and the militarization of European trade resulted in limits being placed on the ability of the participants to engage in market specialization. The new world economy was associated with the altered balance of economic power between the Asians and Europeans, and essentially set the stage for the industrial revolution: what is known as the time of coal and colonies.

The colonies produced riches in terms of agricultural commodities, such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco, which were the fruit of slave labor and the plantation system. The actions of the colonists and traders resulted in substantial biological exchange known as the Columbian Exchange that spread, for simplicity’s sake — Old World DNA. The purposes of these exchanges were biological (for scientific study), economic, nationalistic, and religious — and the expansion of empires, conversion of heathens, and making money.

Mineral wealth, particularly gold bullion and silver amassed during the interstate wars, enabled Europeans to participate in East Asian trade. In this way, the Europeans were able to increase their wealth and power, even though they were cash-strapped from the interstate wars and the dependence on Asian importing that impacted the balance of trade. Mercantilism continued as the dominant capitalist ideology until the 1800s. Increasingly, the states gained control of trade and saw the emergence of monopolistic charters for joint stock companies, such as East India Company. Tariffs were levied on imported goods, which fostered local manufacturing — averting and substituting for imports — and extraction of raw material for self-sufficiency, which was important for colonialism. Industrialism seemed to run incidentally parallel to the interest in resources; indeed, military force was used to effectively compete for those resources and imperial rivalry occurred.

The Industrial Revolution occurred roughly fro 1750 to 1850, and marked the rise of the merchant, industrialist, and capital controller. Competition for the same limited resources eventually led to more labor-intensive agriculture and efforts to reduce importing. The industrialization of England and other countries was based largely on mechanisms and inventions that ultimately preserved the land rather than reducing expended labor. Modern innovations are primarily labor-saving devices, but during the industrial revolution, technology was needed to increase the output from the land in order to offset the influence of the dynamic in which the population grows in response to innovation, but eventually overwhelms the available resources. In this way, the constraints that were an aspect of the biological old regime were thrown off.

Coal served to reduce and finally discontinue the reliance that had developed on forests (wood and charcoal) for the production of iron and steel. Coal became the primary energy source for industry. As colonies tend to do, the new world colonies became sources of raw materials for manufacturing and sustenance. Cotton was the initial draw, followed by other minerals, and inexpensive food for the workers. Complex carbohydrates were replaced by sugar, and sugar became an agricultural focus in the colonies (Mintz 1985). The Great Dying of Native Americans changed the human landscape in a way that sociologists and anthropologists refer to as a peculiar periphery. Diminishing numbers of Native Americans and increasing numbers of Africans created a substantive transformation. From an economical standpoint, the slavery in Africa produced commodities and agricultural exports, but food and clothing had to be imported to supply the slaves.

Industrialization in Britain was influenced by both global developments that included Chinese interest in raw materials such as silver, and disparities between the Asian and European capacities. Britain began to shake off the constraints of the biological old regime. Railroad expansion was the defining technology of the time, as it brought a lift to industry: railroads were used to haul iron, steel, and coal. Steam engines were used for mining and textile manufacturing; coal deposits to fuel them were readily accessible. In the New World, captive markets for manufacturing resulted from the Navigation and Stamp Acts.

The Seven-Year’s War from 1756 to 1763 saw English dominance in the European interstate arena. In India, the Mughal Empire declined and Britain dominated textile exports. Trade imbalance increased and India was essentially being de-industrialized by roughly 1820. Protective tariffs were removed on British textiles that were imported to India; the free trade was enabled by colonial rule. Industrialization enabled the British textiles to be produced less expensively, resulting in increased profits and more competitive products. As a result, Indian textile manufacturing failed, which left millions of Indian weavers unemployed. Many former Indian weavers became farmers, but the colonial land taxes in Bengal created economic conditions that made the cultivation of cash crops necessary if farmers were to pay their taxes. The draconian “free trade” regulations were enforced by the British military, which resulted in India experiencing arrested economic development — stuck in a cycle of trading valuable domestic raw materials for imported manufactured goods.

Western countries benefited from both geography and events that were as much coincidental as contingent. Some states and people were simply at the right time and the right place, existing at a nexus that enabled the accumulation of wealth and power, and domination of other nations and economies. The shifts in fortune and advantage across the major nation states and population clusters are evident in the share percentages in manufacturing output. Consider that in circa 1750, the manufacturing market shares were 33% for China, 23% for India, and 23% for Europe. By 1900, the market shares for manufacturing output had changed to 7% for China, 2% for India, and 80% for Europe and the United States.

Many countries became increasingly poor during the nineteenth century compared to the United States and European countries. While China and India feature strongly in this decline, Africa, Latin America, and the rest of Asia were all negatively impacted. China was increasingly opened and imports of tea strongly contributed to the imbalance in European trade, which were impacted by the Guangzhou system constraints. The juxtaposition of China’s demand for silver with Europe’s New World supply of silver triggered a dynamism that enabled the Europeans to be the first in line to receive Asian commodities. However, in the nineteenth century, silver flowed in the other direction: Britain imported opium to China in substitution for silver obtained primarily from India as trade payments. The British colonies in India meant that a cheap and reliable supply of opium was available for trade in China. The exchange was so lucrative that China began to convert agricultural land used for growing food to poppy cash crops for opium production. The British grew wealthier through the opium trade and both India and China saw declines in wealth. From this point, opium wars with Britain resulted, accompanied by social and political decline, and finally a civil war in China. In efforts to dal with their weakened position, China sought concessions, which ultimately left the country vulnerable to exigencies of Japan, the United States, and powerful European nations.

Nations that are undeveloped are considered part of the third world, a social, economic, and political condition that creates deep-seated structural disadvantages from which some countries find nearly impossible to escape. During the years prior to the global recession of 1873 to 1896, competition between the industrialized countries heated up, fueled by the uncertainties of the boom and bust cycle. Integral to the growing economic competition was an emerging nationalism that increased international tension and led some countries to hold ideas of superiority. In addition, social Darwinism was becoming more mainstream in the late nineteenth century, and people began to justify their racist reasoning for inequalities with this argument. A new imperialism arose as nations competed to establish or expand colonial empires in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

New inventions and discoveries were employed by Europeans to advance colonization of Africa in the 1870s. Steamboats, advanced weapons, and quinine all served to enable colonization. Disregard for the native ecology in Asia, China, India, and Latin America added to the stress on the people living in those countries, and resulted in deforestation and soil fertility depletion in the colonies. Moreover, the late nineteenth century saw droughts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America due to the El Nino. At the same time that the subsistence crops were failing in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, El Nino brought better harvests in North America and had little effect on Europe. The colonial rulers continued to impose regulations that brought the production and export of cash crops and not subsistence crops. Making certain that the free market worked well for the economies dominated by the Europeans resulted in massive famines in the countries with colonies. Tens of millions of people died. The third world was set apart by these preventable tragedies.


Marks RB “The Origins of the Modern World.” Second edition. Rowman & Littlefield

Mintz S. 1985 Sweetness & Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, 1985

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