Graber’s recent chapters highlight the cultural, political, and economic changes that have shaped the way that money has affected the world. One aspect that is particularly interesting to me is the relationship that exists between warfare, slavery, coinage, and ultimately, debt. This might more simply be described as imperialism, though I think that the relationship is perhaps more specific. Empires sought to acquire more territory through military conquest backed either by their own citizens or by mercenary armies. In either case the government was forced to pay its soldiers some sort of compensation, the most simple of which was through coins. The raw materials for these coins were usually procured through slave labor of the conquered nations. Governmental debt is at the heart of this phenomenon, with war financing war in a cycle of violence that usually did not end until the reach of the empire was such that it could no longer finance or control its borders, citizens, or future conquests.
This is particularly interesting because, according to Graber, this is a repeating relationship starting with empires in China, India, and the Mediterranean during the Axial Age, pausing during medieval times, and reoccurring during European imperialism and conquest. Also noteworthy, are the ideological similarities between this type of imperialism and capitalism. Forgoing the idealized free market aspect of modern capitalism, the individualistic and “for-profit” nature of both capitalist corporations and empires is very similar. Both necessitate further expansion and growth, both seek to drive out competition, and in each case there are many instances where morality becomes tied not to ethical treatment, but to the continuation of the company or state (often at the expense of the individual).
Within some contexts however, more recent capitalism may be linked to the increase the living standards and rights of those who reside within its systems. Perhaps this too can be understood through the individualistic nature of modern capitalism, which is a step away from the nationalistic perspectives of empires. If individualism of self, not government or organization, is a high cultural value, then it is not surprising that individuals will seek to increase their rights, opportunities, and fair treatment as to boost their reliance on self. In practice, the realization of these rights is far from certain, but the ideology makes some sense. This is not say that capitalism necessarily promotes democracy or expanded rights, just that the sentiment and ideology of capitalism encourages us to better our positions, which can include better rights and higher living standards.