Colonialism, Development and the Emergence of Industrial Capitalism

J Edgar Mihelic
4 min readMar 26, 2019

It is hard to separate the very idea of capitalism in any of its forms from the emergence of colonialism and imperialism in what are now the lesser developed countries.

Image by MustangJoe from Pixabay

To really think about this, it goes back to Smith. In looking at the output of the pin factory, he celebrates the division of labor in which “This great increase of the quantity of work which, in consequence of the division of labour, the same number of people are capable of performing, is owing to three different circumstances; first, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman; secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another; and lastly, to the invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.” (Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 1). The Smithian framework that he looks at is a right and just celebration of the increase in output. But there is a potential problem there where there is so much history interwoven in the celebration of the increase in output. It makes me think of Ellen Wood’s description of capitalism not as an inevitable, teleological continuation of the path of history, but instead as a separate thing that happened in one small corner of the world. Once can easily imagine a million small capitalisms developing but then dying in their crib. It was not until increased output was able to be a twin with the military might of the British Navy that these pins would be able to go everywhere. If you just had the output and tried to market it in the single nation, the market for pins would soon be saturated unless you were able to grow the market. You can do that internally, by making pins more fashionable, and making the output less durable, but you can also do that by looking outside your borders, in which you take your innovation and you undercut local producers in your market. Wealth from your near abroad and is funneled to the owners of capital.

Markets get exhausted, and your near abroad seeks to emulate you. You must look further afield for potential markets. At the same time, your own resources are limited. Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham can become the workshops to the world, but they are hungry. They need cotton from the subcontinent and Egypt and the…

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