The Simplified Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith -- Book 3, Chapter 3b: The development of commerce after the fall of the Roman empire
Chapter 3b: The development of commerce after the fall of the Roman empire
The Italian cities were the first in Europe raised by commerce to any considerable degree of opulence.
- Italy lay in the centre of the improved and civilized part of the world at that time.
- The Crusades too, were extremely favourable to some Italian cities, though they retarded the progress of the most of Europe by their death and great waste of stock.
- Their great armies gave extraordinary encouragement to the shipping of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.
- Italian shipping transported and supplied them.
- They were the commissaries of those armies.
- The most destructive frenzy in Europe was a source of opulence to those republics.
The people of trading cities afforded some food to the vanity of the great proprietors by importing the improved manufactures and luxuries of richer countries.
- The proprietors eagerly purchased them with much of their rude produce.
- European commerce back then consisted chiefly in the exchange of their own rude produce for the manufactures of more civilized nations.
- English wool was exchanged for French wines and the fine cloths of Flanders.
- Polish corn is currently exchanged for French wines and brandies and the silks and velvets of France and Italy.
A taste for the finer and more improved manufactures was introduced by foreign commerce into countries which had no such works.
- When this taste created a big demand, the merchants naturally endeavoured to establish the same manufactures in their own country to save transportation costs.
- Hence the origin of the first manufactures for distant sale that were established in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman empire.
- No large country ever did or could subsist without some manufacturing industry.
- Whenever any such country has no manufactures, it must always be understood to be of the more improved kind that are fit for distant sale.
- In every large country, the clothing and furniture of most people are made by their own industry.
- This is even more universally true in poor countries which have no manufactures, than in rich countries which have many manufactures.
- In rich countries, more of the clothes and furniture of the poor come from abroad.
The manufactures fit for distant sale were introduced in two ways.
- 18 Sometimes they were introduced by the violent operation of merchants who imitated foreign manufacturing.
- Such manufactures are the offspring of foreign commerce.
- Such were the ancient manufactures of silks, velvets, and brocades, which flourished in Lucca, during the 13th century.
- They were banished there by the tyranny of Castruccio Castracani, one of Machiavel's heroes.
- In 1310, 900 families were driven out of Lucca.
- 31 retired to Venice and introduced the silk manufacture there with 300 workmen.
- They were given many privileges.
- Such, too, were the ancient fine cloth manufactures of Flanders.
- They were introduced into England in the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth.
- Such are the present silk manufactures of Lyons and Spital-fields.
- Manufactures introduced in this way are generally imitations of foreign manufactures employed on foreign materials.
- When the Venetian manufacture was first established, the materials were all brought from Sicily and Syria.
- The more ancient manufacture of Lucca was also done with foreign materials.
- The cultivation of mulberry trees and the breeding of silkworms were uncommon in northern Italy before the 16th century.
- They were introduced into France in the reign of Charles IX.
- The manufactures of Flanders were done chiefly with Spanish and English wool.
- Spanish wool was the material of the first woollen manufacture fit for distant sale.
- It was not the material of the first woollen manufacture of England.
- More than half of the present materials of the Lyons manufacture is foreign silk.
- When it was first established, the whole material was foreign.
- The materials of the Spitalfields manufacture will never likely be the produce of England.
- The seat of such manufactures introduced by a few individuals is sometimes established in a maritime city or in an inland town, according to their interest, judgment, or caprice.
At other times, manufactures for distant sale group up naturally by the gradual refinement of coarser manufactures which must always be done even in the poorest countries.
- Such manufactures generally employ local materials.
- They were frequently first refined in inland countries.
- The inland countries were far from the sea coast.
- A naturally fertile and easily cultivated inland country produces many surplus provisions.
- It may be difficult to send this surplus abroad due to expensive and inconvenient transportation.
- Abundance renders provisions cheap.
- It encourages more workmen to settle in the neighbourhood
- They find that their industry in the inland country can procure more of the necessaries and conveniencies of life than in other places.
- They work up the raw materials and exchange their finished work.
- They give a new value to the surplus rude produce by saving the transportation cost.
- They give the cultivators something in exchange for the surplus that is useful to the workmen on easier terms.
- The cultivators get a better price for their surplus produce.
- They can purchase other conveniences cheaper.
- They are encouraged and enabled to increase this surplus by further land improvement and cultivation.
- As land fertility gave birth to the manufacture, so the manufacture re-acts on the land and increases its fertility.
- The manufacturers first supply the neighbourhood.
- They then supply more distant markets as their work improves.
- The rude produce and coarse manufactures could not support transportation costs.
- But the refined manufactures can.
- It contains the price of a great quantity of rude produce in a small bulk.
- A piece of fine cloth, for example, weighing only 80 pounds, contains the price of:
- 80 pounds of wool
- Several thousand pounds of corn
- In this way, corn is virtually exported in the finished product.
- It may easily be sent to the remotest corners of the world, which could have been carried with difficulty abroad in its own shape,
- The manufactures of Leeds, Halifax, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton grew up naturally in this manner.
- Such manufactures are the offspring of agriculture.
- In modern European history, their extension and improvement was generally posterior to the offspring of foreign commerce.
- England was noted for fine cloths made of Spanish wool more than a century before any of the manufactures of Leeds, Halifax, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Wolverhampton were fit for foreign sale.
- The extension and improvement of the latter only happened due to the extension and improvement of agriculture.
- Agricultural improvement is the last and greatest effect of foreign commerce and of the manufactures immediately introduced by it.
- I shall now explain how commerce leads to this.
Next: Chapter 4a: How commerce contributes to society