God and GoldPosted in: Business By Robert Saik June 1 2009
How could a small island in the North Sea, low on natural resources except herring, coal and potatoes become a world power in the 1800’s?
And how could a colony in the New World adapt the ideas from this small island to become a super power in the 20th Century?
And how does the force of religion and the changes in doctrine over time impact the development of industry and help to shape capitalism, as we know it today?
And how do these factors affect what we are likely to see in the future?
These are the ideas explored by Walter Russel Mead’s book God and Gold; Britain, American, and the Making of the Modern World.
As books go, this was not one of my easiest reads, but it was fascinating. It is interesting to understand where we come from and where we are headed, especially in the context of exploring the forces which shaped the past.
Mead explains that today’s modern capitalistic world was largely shaped by the Maritime System of commerce. He says that you can sum up commercial history in 6 letters… UP to UK to US.The Dutch and the United Provinces were the first to master and dominate the maritime commerce system but because they were on continental soil, they were constantly fighting ground attacks on their borders while simultaneously expanding their maritime presence.
The UK did not have to worry about ground level attack and was able to expand its fleet exponentially which enabled it to expand through worldwide colonialism, including occupation of countries like India. As time progresses the UK finds itself under attack and must defend itself through huge expense.
Towards the 1800’s the US is on the scene and begins to take a dominant role in trade and plays a huge role in foreign affairs. The US now becomes the major player in worldwide maritimecommerce…this domination remained through the entire 20th century.
Against this backdrop of commerce is the ebb and flow of religion with likely the most powerful force shaping America today being the movement “West” of the Methodists which spurred on Expansion of settlers in the new America. Even in Banff the first church established there was by the Methodist Minister Rundle.
The book also does an amazing job of helping to understand the ebb and flow in religion between fundamentalism and liberalism through a concept called “the Gyroscope and the Pyramid” which talks about how society is in a constant state of movement from Reason, to Revelation to Tradition. Mead also moves towards modern times and explains why some people hate us. And that “On a broader scale, a capitalist society is one in which the creative destruction of the market is always reshaping basic institutions.”; which may sum up much of what we are observing around us today. So, if you are looking for a book to bring today’s world into context for you…this might be one worth tackling.
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