By Mel Watkins
Progressive Economics Forun
February 10th, 2012
Empires vary: of conquest, of settlement, of trade; contiguous and maritime. Empires abound: a long list, longer even than many books on empire admit to.
Wikipedia lists over 200 empires from the Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great in the 24th century BCE to today’s American Empire. In terms of territory the largest are the Achaemenid, the Han and the Roman in ancient times, the Mongol and the Yuan Dynasty in medieval times, and the British, the Russian, the Spanish, the Qing and the French in modern times.
Round up the above with the Incan and the Aztec from the Americas, the Mauryan in India, the Zulu in sub-Saharan Africa. It is evident that empire is a world-wide phenomenon, thriving in diverse cultures over the millenia. The nation-state is no more than a late arrival.
Yet economists still have difficulty with the word “imperialism,” and insist that trade is based on comparative advantage among independent countries. The real world is one riddled with asymmetries of power – that being inherent to empire- where politcal economy, precisely because of its explicit recognition of power, trumps orthodox ecoomics with its a-political methodology.
In fact, the rationale for empire is typically to monopolize trade. “Trade theory,” built on Ricardo’s two-country model – which pervades introductory economics textbooks – misleads students, and their professors, and needs to be rethought. Ricardo’s two countries, England and Portugal, were. as we all know, both imperial centres. Yet orthodox economics deems that irrelevant.