Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christopher Columbus Loves Genghis Kahn

   Christopher Columbus did not know know the Mongolian Empire was no more.  All he knew was that Eurasia had lost the safe and prosperous trade routes the Mongols had once provided, and he wanted to resurrect this lost source of trade.  So when we set his sails westward, he wasn't looking for India (contrary to what you learned in school), he was looking for the Mongol Court.
   Indeed, no emperor valued free trade more highly than Genghis Kahn.  His descendants and military ensured merchants safe travel.  Shelters were erected with provisions every thirty miles, and in some areas, guide to lead merchants entering new territory.  Passports and credit cards were created, as well as paper money.
   Perhaps most importantly, he abolished taxes and tolls that increased transportation costs without increasing the value of the goods traded.
   (This is something America's founders understood well, when in an amalgamation of fiercely independent states, they prohibited states from charging fees to merchants transporting goods across state lines.  Facts like these are causing me to rethink the idea that decentralized power is always a more desirable power.)
   It should be noted that this free-trade ideology was not just an ideology based on gains from trade, but the manner in which Mongol tribes instituted shares, where each ruler of one area of the empire shared some of his tribute with all other Mongolian warriors, requiring a safe and convenient transportation system.  The shares helped reinforce Mongolian cohesiveness. 
   However, it is not like the U.S. has a free trade policy due to ideology alone.  Lobbying by exporters plays a vital role in ensuring free trade.
   Whatever you think about Genghis Kahn, when it comes to trade, he is an economist's ideal ruler.

Jack Weatherford.
Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World.
Three Rivers Press.

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