In my spare time I try to read literary masterpieces and popular non-fiction. The latest book that I’ve picked up is Charles Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. I picked it up because the author’s previous work 1491, had a profound impact on my way of thinking about the world. The new book doesn’t disappoint. An excerpt:
One way to summarize [scholar’s] efforts might be to say that to the history of kings and queens most of us learned as students has been added a recognition of the remarkable role of exchange, both ecological and economic.
[…] In some respects this image of the past – a cosmopolitan place, driven by ecology and economics – is startling to people who, like me, were brought up on accounts of heroic navigators, brilliant inventors, and empires […] It is strange, too, to realize that globalization has been enriching the world for nigh on five centuries.
Indeed. I want to use this quote to level two separate criticisms, one at the Left and one at the Right.
To the Left I always seem to be pointing to hard, factual evidence to support my arguments that free markets lead to better lives. Incorporated under the rubric of free markets is the idea behind globalization: change is good, even when it comes at the expense of certain interest groups within a society (like, say, horseshoe makers), and change is driven by markets that are based upon mutually beneficial exchanges of goods and services. Opposing change because it upsets the traditional mores of different cultures (like making one’s children work in the field all day, or legally being able to beat one’s wife) )is decidedly…conservative. Get with the program, Leftists, and start supporting policies that are actually going to drive change for the better: market-based one that approach alleviating poverty, suffering, and war from a much simpler perspective.
Speaking of conservatives, the historical implications of imperialism and isolation do not bode well for your worldview. Markets and other forms of exchange-making institutions do indeed drive change,and once societies come into contact there is really no way stop individuals within these societies from continuing to make exchanges that they think are beneficial to themselves.
Trying to isolate one’s society because one doesn’t like the effects of, say, immigration is historically and empirically the surest way to guarantee economic, political and cultural poverty.
Imperialism has followed the same general pattern as isolationism (I said “isolationism,” not non-intervention). Imperialism is, first and foremost, a burden on the society purportedly in favor of imperial policies (the book has a great couple of sections of the decline of the Spanish and Ming Empires). Imperialism also insights hatred towards members of the society doing the imperial. The political, economic and social effects that imperialism, even the benevolently hegemonic kind, are just as impoverishing as those of isolationism. Of course, this is something that former American Congressman Ron Paul has repeatedly argued: imperial policies actually lead to more isolation.
I highly recommend picking up both of Mr. Mann’s books. They are readable, accessible and designed for the intelligent layman and specialist alike. Together, they represent about 800 pages that you won’t have regretted reading.