London Bills and World Trade

           Trade is capital intensive, even more so when transit times are slower or the distances vaster. Products sitting in warehouses, ships, and ports are deadweight, tying up capital until they are finally sold and used. Merchant banks, as their name implies, serve merchants and for centuries that meant devising a solution to the financial problems

From Debtors’ Prison to Bankruptcy

           Bankruptcy gives debtors a reprieve from their creditors by allowing an orderly liquidation of assets or a restructuring, often alongside a reduction or complete discharge of remaining debts. Usually a sign of financial defeat, it can be easy to forget that bankruptcy is a protection largely provided to the borrower and not the creditor. Before

John Jacob Astor

           America’s Gilded Age fortunes are infamous, but much less well known to the average person in America are its early tycoons. Like those of the late 19th century, those of the earlier part of that century benefited from opportunities obvious only in hindsight along with employing at least some questionable practices. John Jacob Astor possessed

Napoleonic Sanctions

           As wars are costly and cannot always be won by military means alone, wars are also economic struggles. Adversaries try to gain the upper hand by embargos and blockades, either in lieu of military action or in addition to it. Unable to defeat Britain by conventional means, Napoleonic France led a front of largely reluctant

Agency Houses and Indian Trade

           Until the early 19th century, much of India’s financial and economic history revolved around European trading companies, most notably the British East India Company. However, there were other organizers of Indian trade besides these companies. Among them were the ‘agency houses’, financial and trading firms that got their start during the period of Company rule

Merchant Sailors

           Long sea voyages were among the largest privately undertaken ventures in the early modern world. Financing them led to the creation of some of the first joint stock companies and the task of insuring them made marine insurance one of the first modern insurance products available. Yet the sailors involved are easily overlooked, but they

The Nabobs’ Homecoming

           In early modern Europe, the most powerful incentive for overseas exploration were the riches to be gained by trade. These riches led countries to sponsor trading companies and sent the entrepreneurial abroad. In the case of British merchants, clerks, and soldiers in India, there were opportunities to earn fortunes nearly unachievable at home. British trade

Defoe on Trade, Commerce, and Credit

           It is easy to presume that business writing is a relatively recent genre of literature. One would think that novels have been around far longer. Reality can be surprising though and it happens that business literature has been around for centuries and, in the English language at least, novelistic writing hardly predates it by much.

Atlantic Charter, GATT, and the WTO

       Even before the 20th century, punitive restrictions on trade were quickly being lifted. In Europe, tariff barriers had receded significantly since the mid-1800s. However, the trend towards free trade became global and more permanent with the creation of new international organizations after the Second World War. These institutions were born out of the economic and

European Coal and Steel Community

            Whatever its evolution beyond a mere free trade zone, the European Union is nonetheless the product of decades of trade liberalization, today uniting 500 million people in a common market. The trade liberalization seen in 19th century Europe, though it sharply reduced barriers to trade, did not go nearly as far. While the EU is

Cobden-Chevalier Treaty

           As the Industrial Revolution spread throughout Europe and beyond in the 19th century, so did new approaches to economic thinking. Protectionism was slowly but steadily going out of vogue, and free trade, or at least liberalized trade, was making headway. In Britain, the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s was a major turning

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