2011년 2월 28일 월요일

An excerpt: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The wheels of commerce

자료: 구글도서
도서: F. Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The wheels of commerce

On the page 455:

Back to a threefold division

Capitalism has therefore to be located in relation both to the different sectors of the economy and to the hierarchy of trade of which it occupies the summit. And this brings us back to the threefold division I outlined at the very beginning of this work:[254] the base, consisting of 'material life'ㅡmany-sided, self-sufficient and routine-bound; at the next level, 'economic life', more clearly defined and, as described here, tending to merge with the competitive market economy; and lastly, at the third level, the activities of capitalism. It would be all so simple if this working distinction were clearly visible in real life, with demarcation lines discernable with the naked eye. Real life is not of course so simple.

In particular, it is very difficult to draw a line indicating what to my mind is the crucial distinction between capitalism and the economy. The economy, in the sense in which I wish to use the word, was a world of transparence and regularity, in which everyone could be sure in advance, with the behefit of common experience, how the processes of exchanges would operate. This was always the case on the town market-place, for the transactions necessary for everyday life: goods were exchanged for money or vice versa and the deal was resolved on the spot, the moment these things changed hands. It was also the case in retail shops. And it was the case too, even if the distance was greater, for any ^regular^ trade of which the origins, conditions, routes and the market were fixed: grain from Sicily, wines and raisins from Levant, salt(when there was no state intervention), oil from Apulia, rye, wood, tar from the Baltic, etc. Such trade links were innumerable and usually long-established; their itinerary, calendar and price differentials were known by everyoneㅡand as a result regularly open to free competition. It is true that the picture is complicated if a certain commodity for one reason or another became interesting to the speculator: in that case, it would be hoarded in a warehouse, then redistributed, usually over long distances and in large quantities. Cereals from the Baltic for instance nornally came into the category of the open market: the purchasing price in Danzig regularly followed the curve of the selling price in Amsterdam.[255] But once it had been stored in the Amsterdam warehouses, this cereal changed its nature: it was now a counter in a complicated game which only rich merchants could play. They would send it to a variety of destinationsㅡto places where famine had sent the prices up out of all proportion to the original purchasing prices; or to places where it could be exchanged for a certain desired commodity. It is true that there were, at national level, possibilities of small-scale speculation, micro-capitalism, but there were swallowed up in the overall economy. The capitalist game only concerned the unusual, the very special, or the very long distance connectionㅡsometimes, lasting months to even years.

This being so, can we put the market economyㅡthe transparent economy, to use this word one last time, in one category; and capitalism, speculation, in another? Is this merely a matter of words? Or are we here at a concrete frontier of which those concerned were to some extent conscious? When the Elector of Saxony wished to present Luther with four ^Kuxen^, mining shares bringing in 300 ^Gulden^, Luther retorted:[256] 'Ich will kein Kuks haben! Es is Spielgeld und will nicht wuddeln dasselbig Geld.' 'I want no shares! This is speculative money and I will not make this kind of mony multiply.' A significant, perhaps oversignificant reaction (both Luther's father and brother were small entrepreneurs in the Mansfield copper-mines and thus on the wrong side of the capitalist barrier). But one finds the same reticence in J. P. Ricard, a comparatively dispassinate observer of life in Amsterdam, where he witnessed many forms of speculation: 'The spirit of commerce reigns so completely in Amsterdam', he writes, that one absolutely has to do business in some form or another.'[257] It was,  surely, another world. For Johann Georg Busch, the author of a history of trade in Hamburg, the stock exchange complications in Amsterdam and certain other financial centers[258] 'are not matters for a reasonable man, but for an inveterate gambler'. Once more we find a line being drawn. Standing on the other side of the frontier, Emile Zola in 1891 puts the following words in the mouth of a businessman about to launch a new banking firm: 'With the lawful and mediocre remuneration for one's labour, the prudent equilibrium of everyday transactions, existence is an unrelieved desert, a swamp where all forces slumber and stagnate... But speculation is the temptation of life itself, the eternal desire that forces one to struggle and live... Without speculation, no one would do any business at all.'[259]

Here an awareness of a difference between two economic worlds, two ways of living and working is expressed without ambiguity. Zola was 'only a novelist'? But listen to the Abbe Galiani(1728-1787) writing a good century earlier and describing though in quite different language the same economic gulf and human dividing line: In his ^Dialogues on the grain trade^(1770)[260] he challenges the physiocrats with the sacrilegious notion that the grain trade cannot provide the wealth of a country. Grain, he argues, is not only the foodstuff 'which is the lowest in value in proportion to its weight and space it occupies', and therefore expensive to transport; not only is it perishable, easily destroyed by rats and insects and difficult to keep; not only does it 'decide to come into the world in the middle of summer' and thus have to be handled commercially 'in the most contrary season', when the seas are rough and the roads impassable; but worst of all 'wheat grows everywhere. There is not a kingdom without it'. And no kingdom has a monopoly in it either. Compare it with oil and wine, products of warm climates: 'Trade in these is steady, constant and regular. Provence will always be able to sell its wines and oils to Normandy...Every year they will be requested on one side and delivered by the other; that will never change...The real treasures of France, among the fruits of the earth, are wines and oils. The whole of the North needs them and the North cannot produce them. So a trade becomes establishedm carves itself a channel, ceases to be a speculation and becomes routine.' But when it comes to grain, no regularity can be taken for granted; one never knows where the demand will come from, who will be able to meet it, or whether one will arrive too late when someone elae has already delivered the goods. The element of risk is large. That is why 'small merchants of modest means' can profitablly engage in the oil or wine trade; 'indeed it is more lucrative if carried out on a small scale. Economy and probity make it prosper... But for [large-scale] trade in grain, the most powerful hands and the longest arms must be sought out from the whole body of traders.' Only these powerful men are well-informed. Only they can afford the risk and 'since the glimpse of risk makes the crowd shrink' they become 'monopolists', with 'profits in proportion to the risk'. Such is the situation in  the '^foreign^ grain trade'. On the home market, as between the different provinces of France for instance, the irregularities of harvest from place to place also allow a degree of speculation, but without the same profit. 'It is abandoned to the hauliers, the millers and the bakers who speculate on a very small scale on their own account. So [whereas] the external trade... in grain is too vast and so... risky and difficult that it engenders monopoly by its nature, internal trade between neighbouring places is on the contrary too small.' It passes through too many hands leaving each man with only a small profit.

So even grain, a commodity present all over Europe, can be fitted without difficulty into our three-fold schema: it was consumed on the spot, staying at the lowest level of material life; it was marketed in a regular way over short distance, from the usual granaries to the nearby town, which had 'the advantage over them of situation'; it was the object of a less regular and occasionally speculative trade between provinces; and finally, during the frequently repeated famine crises, it was a highly speculative commodity, and its transport over ong distances was big business. With every change, one moves up a rank in the hierarchy of trade, as new economic agents and participants take the stage.

on the page 458 (...)

on the page 459:

It is with this in mind and for want of a better term, that I have come to think of society as a 'set of sets', the sum of all the things that historians encounter in the various branched of our research. I am borrowing from mathematics a concept so convinient that mathematicians themselves distrust it; and I am perhaps using rather a grand word (in French the word for ^set^ is ^ensemble^, which also means 'whole') to underline the obvious truth that ^everything^ under the sun is, and cannot escape being, social. But the point of definition is to provide an approach to a problem, to lay down some guidelines for preliminary observation. If it makes that obervation easier, both at the beginning and in later stages, if it helps to produce an acceptable classfication of the material and to develop the logic of the argument, then the definition is useful and has justified itself. If we use the expression 'set of sets' or 'ensemble des ensembles', does this not usefully remind us that any given social reality we may observe in isolation is itself contained in some greater set; that as a collection of variables, it requires and implies the existence of other collections of variables outside itself? Jean-Francois Melon, secretary of John Law, was already saying in 1734: 'There is such an intimate connection between the different parts of Society, that one cannnot strike one part without its having repercussions on the other.'[6] Which is much the same as saying today, 'the social process is an indivisible whole'[7] or 'the only possible history is general history',[8] to quote only one or two of a hundred similar remarks.[9]  (...)

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