How the Industrial Revolution Changed Global Commerce

The second industrial revolution began in the middle of the 19th century and fundamentally changed global commerce.  Advances in science and technology allowed rapid development of new industrial techniques, new power sources, rapid communication and transportation, and new war machinery.  All this combined with innovations in financial systems such as the creation of limited-liability joint-stock ownership and the stock market, helped to move economic power away from government and more into the hands of the industrial capitalists and bankers.  Capitalism was embraced with a fervor and devotion few religions enjoy.

Global competition intensified when Germany, the United States, and Japan challenged Britain’s early lead in industrialization.  The need to secure existing colonial and imperial possessions and to acquire more became more important than ever.  This increasing competition caused both governments and industrialists to pour money into research, education, expanded industrial capabilities, and increased military forces and weaponry.  Besides coffee, tea, sugar, and other commodities, industries now needed new resources such as copper, rubber, oil, and bauxite.

This need for raw materials and the need to utilize industrialized farming techniques led to a new age of conquest, population dislocations, and subjugation.  The United States invaded Mexico in 1846 and forced them to cede half their territory, then in the late 1890s declared war on Spain and invaded the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.  The United States entered these wars under the pretext of freeing the colonies of Spanish rule but the concept of “American Exceptionalism” justified retaining domination of all three countries.  In India, after Britain put down the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a massive push for infrastructure began.  This came in the form of railways, communication lines, and a postal service, all for the support of the commercial interests of Britain and the East India Company.  British investors financed these projects but charged them to the Indians in the form of taxes.  Britain went on to conquer Malaysia, Burma, and Ceylon.  Between the 1860s and 1890s, France occupied Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos.  The Dutch had ruled Indonesia until they chose a policy of less government exploitation in favor of settlement and private exploitation.  Africa suffered most from this new wave of colonization.  In 1884 and 1885 delegates from Germany, Portugal, Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire partitioned an unmapped Africa.  No Africans were present.

All this upheaval and rapid change created unprecedented wealth for the industrial and banking magnates while poverty, exploitation, displacement, and low wages became the norm for the vast majority.  This period of technological advancement, industrialization, and global interdependence saw the coming of age of capitalism and its ideals implanted in the world’s psyche.

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Filed under Capitalism, World History

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