: New: Book Report: Empire of Cotton

It's a history of the cotton business. Cotton was one of the first global businesses. Cotton's not so perishable; you can grow it in one place; spin+weave it somewhere else; sell the resulting cloth in yet another place. So an action over on this continent can make something happen over that that continent. For a long time, cotton was a (sometimes the) big international business; thus, human history gets tangled with cotton history. Alas, human history is pretty awful.

So you read about clever inventors ginning up ways to simplify spinning and weaving cotton. And if you're a nerdly engineer like myself, you puff up your chest and think Yep, changing the world. Sparing workers from toil. But then it turns out that easing cotton processing just drives up the demand for raw material from wherever. And so over the next few decades after a batch of inventions, the American South tripled the number of slaves to meet that demand for cotton. So, yeah, clever nerdly inventors spared workers from toil except actually the result was kidnapping and forcing labor from hundreds of thousands of people and history is just the worst.

Cotton was big business. If you had some resource you could exploit and you wanted to somehow turn that into money, your first guess at an enterprise would be cotton. If you were a country that captured a colony, force the citizens to grow cotton. Or if the climate wasn't right for that, then force those citizens to buy cotton only from you. If you were a ruler with serfs, force them to grow cotton and/or only buy it from you. If… Oh and it just goes on like that.

This is not a happy book. It's interesting. But keep in mind that you're reminding yourself that mankind can be pretty horrible to itself (and has been for a long time).

Tags: book brutal truth economics

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