The American Continent’s Economic Contributions to Europe and the World

This is an old essay I had written for Chicano Studies Class many years ago.  My writing has evolved since then, but it is interesting for me to see the way I saw things in the past.  If I had to write this all over, it would definetly not look the same, but some of the ideas contained therein still resonate with me.  

Oftentimes America as a continent is not given credit for the lifestyle that we have in modern times.  What people fail to realize is that America had a big role to play in the development of the Capitalist system, in the overthrow of monarchies, in the traditional occupations of our modern society, and in the overall Eurocentric culture we have today. Particularly indebted to us is Europe, who had the most to gain by the discovery of America.  America gave Europe its glories in terms of wealth and notoriety.  As a matter of fact, without the help of America, Europe, Capitalism, and our overall way of life would not be what they are.  It is important to look at the history of our continent so that we may better appreciate the contributions we had on the modern world.  Thanks to the discovery of America we have the society we have today; a society that’s globalized and centered on capitalism and is free of monarchies.

The discovery of America led to an increase of the circulation of coins, which developed capitalism and gave way to a new social order that was based on monetary status rather than family ties.  Importing silver to Europe gave way to this new system.  In Peru, there is a mountain called “Cerro Rico”, meaning rich hill, which was exploited by Europeans through Indian labor.  The riches of that mountain were immense.

This mountain… is the richest mountain ever discovered anywhere on earth.  Beginning in 1545, this mountain produced silver for the treasuries of Europe at a rate and in a volume unprecedented in human history… Indian miners say that they have extracted enough ore from this mountain to build a sterling-silver bridge from Potosi to Madrid (4)

The amount of silver excavated and transported to Europe was so immense that there was an inflation of silver.  The common man could get his hands on currency.  This allowed normal people to increase their wealth, to venture in new enterprises, and to take their social class to a higher level.  This got rid of the old aristocracy and gave way to Capitalism, a system where business owners are the ones in charge, and where the importance of birthright is diminished in the light of an entrepreneurial drive for success.

Never before in the history of the world had so much silver money been in the hands of so many people… Now for the first time people had massive amounts of silver and gold.  Quickly and inexorably the traditional old system mutated into a true money economy in which large numbers of people could buy large amounts of goods, and private citizens could start their own hoards of coins.  Production increased, and people began to accumulate capital in quantities undreamed of by prior generations (4)

The importation of gold and silver from the Americans had a direct relationship to the restructuring of the social order.  Today we don’t have kings anymore, nor do we have people who can assume to be better than use just because they belong to a particular family.  Nowadays people regard careers as measures to success and financial stability as a measure of wellbeing.  Today we strive to own businesses, not marry in a higher class.  Historically, this is due to the fact that metals from our continent helped gave rise to the bourgeoisie, which is a class that was before second to nobility, but worked its way to the top through industry and commerce.

 

The bourgeoisie… has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.  It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than

callous ‘cash payment’ (2)

 

Here Karl Marx explains that the higher class people were not as important when other people were able to attain wealth.  Though he does not agree with the bourgeoisie rule and monetary based system of social order, he admits that it was because of them that the old order was destroyed and replaced with an order where “cash payment” was more greatly revered than family ties with nobility.

Another thing Marx particularly disliked was the Industrial Revolution.  This was also a concequence of contributions from America as he himself had mentioned,

 

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way.  This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land.  This development has, in turn, reacted on the extension of industry (2)

 

And so with the establishment of modern industry, comes the development of factories and machinery.  These would also not have been possible without the contributions of America. It is hard to imagine our modern economy without machinery.  Before the discovery of America, there was little incentive to develop machines.  “Since the number of sheep determined the amount of wool for weaving, peasants lacked incentives to develop machines”(4).  This changed with the influx of cotton from the Americas.  The peasants now had more fiber than they could handle, and so machines had to be developed.  This lead to a revolution of such significance that the only other revolution as significant prior to that one was the Neolithic one.

Over the course of human history, there has been only one other group of changes as significant as the Industrial Revolution. This is what anthropologists call the Neolithic Revolution, which took place in the later part of the Stone Age (5)

Today we have a lifestyle that is Eurocentric.  We do not live like Native Americans anymore.  This is due to the fact that there was a great exchange of European manufactured goods in the Americas.  If it had not been for the demand the colonies had on such goods, Europe would have probably not have developed its culture beyond its borders and things that we regard as pertinent to a European lifestyle would not be dominant in the world, such as the use of European furniture, tea and other things.  According to Adam Smith, who is regarded as the father of modern economics, the discovery of America “opened up new and inexhaustible market to all the commodities of Europe” (3).  The key word here is “inexhaustible”.  The reason this new market was inexhaustible was because people in the Americas had a great demand for European manufactured goods.  Since people in the America’s were mostly concerned with agriculture when the colonies were first settled, since land was cheap and abundant, they didn’t manufacture.  So they found it more convenient to purchase things from Europe.  And so Europeans had many people to sell their manufactured goods to.  This also gave way to the professions that people see as traditional.  The raw agricultural products were sent to Europe, where the bread makers and butchers use the material to make their products, and so European small businesses are, according to Smith, “greatly extended by means of trade with America”.  All the while Europe was importing its culture into the Americas, Smith considered the discovery of the continent the most important event recorded in the history of mankind (3).

America and its wealth gave way to a higher standard of living, which lead to immigration.  This immigration happened because of economic reasons.  America continued to be the aid to Europeans, who had suffered under famine, plague, oppression, underdevelopment of medicine and many other things.  The society we have today can trace their ancestors back to very much any part of the world.  And they came mostly for the economic blessings that America had given, among its exploitations and massacres, to the rest of the world.

Millions of Americans can trace their roots back to an ancestor who came to the new world with a hunger.  Metaphorically speaking, it was a desire for freedom.  But more often than not, this noble goal was directly tied to a powerful physical need for a good, hot meal (1)

The buying and selling that was made possible by instituting capitalism made the circulation of goods a global one.  Exchange of goods and services entails the exchange of people.  This is due to Globalization, which is also a result of American influence.  The discovery of America gave way to globalization.  As Smith claims,

In consequence to these discoveries, the commercial towns of Europe, instead of being the manufacturers for but a very small part of the world… have now become the manufactures for… almost all the different nations (3)

And as I had mentioned before, the discovery of America gave way to more wealth in the hands of Europeans because of the influx of silver and gold.  This also had a direct impact in globalizing the European system of economics, Capitalism.

the new wealth in the hands of Europeans… allowed Europe to expand into an international market system (3)

And so in conclusion, we have seen that America had a huge role to play into the development of our modern world.  Indebted to us is Europe in particular, for it had benefited the most out of these events.  Capitalism was helped by the discovery of America, much the same way that an athlete’s performance is enhanced by steroids.  Hopefully we can all have a greater appreciation of our continent’s role in the development of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

1)      AdCounicl. “Freedom Foundation.” NOW AND THEN Curren Issues in Historical Context. By Judith

Stanford. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 76. Rpt. in We Have Nothing to Eat. N.p.: n.p., n.d.

 

2)      Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto, A Modern Edition. London: Verso, 1998.

3)      MSN Encarta. "The Industrial Revolution." Encarta Ecyclopedia Online. Microsoft. 13 May 2008
     <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761577952/Industrial_Revolution.html>.

 

 

4)      Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. 1776. New York : Bantam , 2003.

 

5)      Weatherford, Jack. Indian Givers. Toronto, Canada: Ballantine Books, 1988

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