Not A Water-Dwelling Mammal

The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations is one of those books that you pick up, compulsively read and then carry with you everywhere you go for about three weeks in the form of annoying dinnertime conversation. I mean, how can you keep the fact that the Incas had no written language or wheels and yet had an empire spanning 4,000 miles to yourself! Or that Mexico’s population dropped by 96% through illness when the Europeans arrived! Or that China is totally weird and always has been!

The book starts off at the very beginning of time. Sorry, I imbibed some of the Market-Is-Good ideology of the superb writer David Landes there. It begins really with an assessment of where the world was at about 1000AD and how it got there. This is very Guns, Germs And Steel but you know, not boring and not misappropriated in every internet bulletin board debate for the last seven years. Then it gets into the good stuff of explaining why some countries get rich and then lose it all, some stay poor and never get anything and why Britain and Holland always seem to be doing unusually well for themselves.

He tells a class story about the Dutch. They were a thriving little merchant nation, if we can call a loose confederation of states and cities a nation. Through a series of unlikely events, Charles V of Germany became the King of Germany, Spain, Portugal, Burgundy and all the Low Countries. The only way I can describe this strange sequence of events is to remind you of well, anytime I’ve ever played Risk with you. You haven’t played Risk with me? Well you obviously can’t master the history of Economics then. But on the plus side, at least you still have confidence in yourself. Unlike anyone who has ever played Risk against me. It happens like this. The game is humming along nicely. You might have been eyeing up the Middle East. Then I roll the dice and suddenly I start to move and three minutes later the game is over. One guy went to put on the kettle. He comes back, we’re putting the game away and I’m doing my little victory dance, with all your underpants on my head (the spoils of war). That is the only way you can possibly understand the masterstroke that Charles V pulled off.

So he ends up the King of Spain and somehow, encouraged by the Pope and other nefarious baddies, he decides to continue the Iberian peninsula’s two centuries long tradition of antisemitism. All the Jewish people had fled Portugal and Spain and found refuge up in the Calvinistic north but now Charles V decided to go after them too, all to cleanse his Empire of those people who were so disgustingly similar to Jesus. Things happen, ideologies clash and soon there is war. The Dutch find their free marketeering ways limited by you know, the corpses on the road so a bunch of independent traders come together to form VOC, the Dutch East Indian Shipping company.

This was a bold move. Portugal had been in control of the Indian Ocean for many generations. How insane is that- little silly Portugal of the flamboyant footballers and silly monuments, they were a massive world power. And the British were entering into the distant imperialism-game with verve by this stage (the local Irish project wasn’t delivering the results they hoped for, I guess). How can a bunch of egghead flower sellers and polder farmers dare to go into sea-faring adventures with the brigands of Portugal, the Pirates of the Far East and the cannons of Britain? Well they realised this was the most unlikely endeavour that ever happened outside of a “Nerds win in the end” Hollywood movie. So these inexperienced fishermen who found themselves on the harsh open seas going into battle with hostile traders in a desperate effort to slice off a bit of the world, subdue the population and call it New Holland did what they had to do. It was the 16th Century equivalent of the Rocky scenes in the meat rooms. They probably played the Rocky theme tune on their harpsichords every day as the sailors did their drills and practices, running up and down the masts and rolling canons here and there and putting out pretend fires.

What happened was that by the time the VOC fleet reached the Indian Ocean to get in on the colonisation free-for-all, they were the sharpest fighting machine on the seas. They soon had 40% of the world’s pepper sales in their pocket and the only supply of nutmeg in the world. It seems the Mighty Ducks movies were actually based on a true story after all.

Your Correspondent, Has got a preposterous hypothesis

7 Responses to “Not A Water-Dwelling Mammal”

  1. Greymalkin says:

    I’m totally yoinking that book off you when I can.Does it mention anything about Philip 2?

  2. zoomtard says:

    I haven’t come across him yet. It’s a library book so unless you move to Maynooth you’ll have to track down your own copy. Sorry.

  3. Steven Day says:

    I would visit if only to beat you in a game of Risk after that comment…

  4. Did Steve tell you that?

  5. Greymalkin says:

    Back off Steven Day,Zoomtard barely knows the subtleties (sp?) of risk and he can still trounce us all.In fact he was so good that once he left halfway thru,asked one of his minions to finish the game, which she did.Promptly

  6. zoomtard says:

    Aye. This is true. I have very few astounding gifts from God but the ability to win at Risk and the Tango are undeniable.

  7. jimlad says:

    I have never lost a game of risk. On my first game, admittedly a decision was made by the greater consensus to ditch the game because people wanted to go to bed and it looked like no one was about to win. Actually, I was about to win in a rather zoomesqe manner, but if I’d told anyone how they would have stopped me so I said nothing. I’ve only played three or four times since then mind you, but I am like a kung fu master in search of a worthy adversary. Perhaps sometime you might help me to discover the meaning of the word, “loser” from my own perspective, for this is the last of the great experiences to elude me.