A brief history of shopping

By SARA DONNELLY  |  January 24, 2007

070126_INSIDE_BAGGUETE
GOING LOCAL
A brief history of shopping
Historically, people got what they needed — food, clothing, and shelter — from local merchants and their immediate surroundings. But since before the beginning of recorded history, we have also traded goods between distant societies.

14,000-6500 BC Obsidian, an extremely sharp volcanic glass, is mined in Turkey and traded throughout what is now the Middle East, from southern Israel to western Iran.

3000 BC Egypt begins to trade materials for making jewelry. The Phoenicians (in modern-day Lebanon) travel by sea as far north as Britain for tin to make bronze.

3000 BC-400 AD Ancient Greece and Rome export olive oil, wine, and pottery for wheat, spices, and fabrics.

992 AD The Byzantine Empire becomes one of the earliest recorded protectionists by granting special trade rights to Venice and other lucrative trading partners.

1114 Trade fairs in Champagne, France, attract merchants at popular crossroads from Flanders, Germany, Italy, and Provence.

1215 The Magna Carta includes provisions to protect merchants from unfair tolls.

1361 Britain enacts the Corn Laws, prohibiting exports of grain to keep it affordable to locals and prohibiting imports unless they are very expensive.

1492 Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella finance Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the west in search of a faster trade route with Asia; he lands in the Americas.

1515-1519 Arabian coffee appears in Europe.

17TH-18TH CENTURIES Sugar, rum, and slaves are sold between Europe, Africa, and the Americas in what is called the “triangle trade.”

19TH CENTURY Some economists call this era an “earlier age of globalization.” Countries drop restrictions on international free trade and create the gold standard to judge the value of goods and currency. Western nations like Britain, Germany, and the US prosper with a volume of international trade comparable to today’s.

20TH CENTURY A backlash to globalization begins in the early part of the century, leading to higher tariffs and more trade restrictions that some economists believe contribute to the Great Depression. After the Wall Street crash in 1929, countries are further spooked by international trade. The US is crippled by unemployment and economic depression. After World War II, the American economy emerges stronger than those of Europe and Japan and begins economic policies of free-market international trade that help it dominate the world economy for decades. Opposition to free trade and international competition for jobs grows in the 1990s, culminating in a massive demonstration against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999 that launches the modern US anti-globalization movement.

21ST CENTURY The gap between rich and poor countries is large and many free-trade laws benefit western countries at the expense of developing nations. Some economists believe globalization is destined to repeat a paradoxical cycle in which the cheap labor it creates causes dissatisfied voters in relatively affluent nations to rise up and stifle international trade, though the world economy and their own have largely benefited from it.

SOURCES Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BBC News, Sheffield University

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