Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Roots of the Global Economy by NancyWH

(2 pm – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Money, and capitalism, are in and of themselves soulless, neither good nor evil.  Like all tools, they come alive in the hands of their master.

The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse.     Henry David Thoreau, Life without Principle

I agree.  I much prefer to work at some task that satisfies my mind and spirit, and need not think about it feeding my body, unless I am uncommonly hungry. Yet even that great Transcendental anti-materialist, Thoreau, had to admit the native wisdom of woodcutter  Alex Therien’s reasoning for the utility of cash:

When I asked him if he could do without money, he showed the convenience of money in such a way as to suggest and coincide with the most philosophical accounts of the origin of this institution, and the very derivation of the word pecunia. If an ox were his property, and he wished to get needles and thread at the store, he thought it would be inconvenient and impossible soon to go on mortgaging some portion of the creature each time to that amount.    Walden

For more discussion about the utility of having an economy, vs. the valuing of money over people, please follow me, beyond the Infinity symbol a la kos.

Many civilizations have come and gone through recorded history. For our purposes, we will start in 410 CE. Rome fell to the Visigoths, and much they had created was lost for centuries. The “Dark Ages” that followed, from approximately from 500-1500 A.D, encompassed the taking of Jerusalem by Caliph Umar the Great, around 640. This made Jerusalem part of the Arab Caliphate.

In 1095, Pope Urban II, egged on by Emperor Alexius I of Byzantine, the former eastern half of the Old Roman Empire, called for the first Crusade to push back the encroaching Turks.  In just 4 years, Jerusalem was in Christian hands again. And in 1119,  the Knights Templar was formed, to “protect” Christian pilgrims in Holy Land.

A member of the Knights Templar was a mix of monk, and soldier. Most came from the village Troye in France. In Jerusalem, they built their Temple where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now sits. The ancient Temple of Solomon itself sat on the far southern side of the Mount, and underneath were many artifacts, from Jewish history, and from the early Christians. These were the new “must have” status symbol du jour, holy relics, more valuable than cash or jewels. The relics believed to be the most connected to the New Testament were the most valuable. And all that was required was a Knights Templar’s signature, a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal” of approval, to prove their authenticity. With such a valuable monopoly, the Knights Templar amassed wealth rivaling that of most European monarchs.

Why? Well, for one thing, to buy a place in heaven, without all the bother of earning it.  Indeed, French King Louis IX was canonized partially on the strength of his commitment to the principles of St. Francis,  such as building Hospitals, and even caring for the sick himself. But he ensured his spot in heaven by the purchases of Christ’s  Crown of Thorns, and a piece of the True Cross, from the Knights Templar finds. He built a special Reliquary to hold them, and made Paris the Jerusalem of Europe. All European Royalty bought relics and donated to order, in a sort of religious “Keeping up with the Joneses” frenzy.  

So, by hunting for and selling off Holy Relics, under guise of escorting and guarding pilgrims to Holy Land, the Knights amassed great wealth.  And, like any multinational corporation, they built great Temples, palaces, castles, and churches all over Europe. They also stepped in as the bankers of the East and Europe. A traveler could deposited money in one temple, and obtain a note. This then could be used like a check, to withdraw cash at another Temple, and is the model for our modern alternate means of moving our money around today. Of course, Knights charged a fee for this service, while themselves being exempt from paying the taxes that other citizens were expected to pay to the Roman Catholic Church.  And the monetary monopoly was born.

The Knights went on to invest these funds and fees, buying wineries, farms, vineyards, tanneries, tile factories, and other means of turning products and labor into greater wealth. They became the richest institution after the Church itself.

Now we come to King Philip IIII of France, grandson St. Louis. He developed what we would now call a Christ complex, seeing himself the Most Christian of Christian monarchs,  “The Face of Christ on Earth,” not just the King, but Christ Himself.  Unfortunately, the Most Christian of Monarchs waged many pointless wars against England, putting France deeply in debt.

However, he also perfected a technique for replenishing his coffers. His first unintended rescuers were the Lombards, Italian bankers living in France to do business there. Philip  borrowed heavily from them, and lacked the means to pay them back. So the Face of Christ on Earth waged various criminal charges against them, had them expelled from France, and kept their goods and money. Just like Jesus would do.

Next, he borrowed from the Jewish moneylenders of France, knowing no one would be particularly motivated to speak up for them. And of course, he soon cooked up charges against them, such as “dishonoring Christian customs and behavior,” which has had many come encores in the annals scurrilous charges, and expelled them as well, keeping all their money and property.

Still, in early 1306, he was forced him to devalue the French currency, and an angry mob chased the Face of Christ through the streets of Paris. He took refuge in the Knights’  Temple in Paris, and Philip saw for himself the gold coins and treasure the Knights had stored there.

You now need to know that then-reigning pope Boniface VIII had excommunicated King Philip in 1303, over his refusal to pay church taxes. You see, the pope declared that the King of France had no right to tax Church property, and the King disagreed. Boniface issued a papal bull proclaiming that all Kings must be subordinate to the Church, and that the Popes held ultimate authority over both spiritual and temporal matters on earth. Phillip then sent an army and captured the Pope. A month later, Boniface was dead. His successor, Pope Benedict XI, lasted only a year in office, and it was rumored he had been done in on Philip’s orders as well.

By now, King Phillip decided it would be easier to just buy a Pope. As seen in The Borgias, he began buying off cardinals and pulling strings until he had enough cardnals on his side to elect his handpicked candidate. And so Bertrand de Goth, became Pope Clement V. Conveniently, at the time, Rome was in much turmoil, and the safety of the Vatican was questionable. It didn’t take much to convince the new Pope that staying in France was the better choice, and by 1309, the Holy See moved to Avignon, in Phillip’s backyard.

Catholics refer to this as the Babylonian Captivity. Now, it’s usually called the Avignon Papacy, or the Great Schism. And Clement was the perfect Pope for Philip; weak, new in the job, and owing his job to the King.  

Meanwhile, the 1150’s saw the rise of Sultan Saladin. In 1187, he won Palestine, and went on to capture Jerusalem. 1191, the Knights Templar moved their capitol to Acre. In 1291, they abandoned the Holy Land altogether. Their raison d’existence gone, by 1307, they were ripe for Philip’s picking.  

As with the Lombards and Jews, Philip first started rumors to destroy the Knights Templars’ reputation, including that great tool of character assassination still popular today, “homosexual acts.”  He ordered the arrest of all the Knights in Paris. Original arrest orders, which can be seen in the National Archives of France, include charges of deviant behavior during initiations, financial corruption, idolatry [worshipping a cat], and heresy; 104 charges in all. Within two weeks, under that great Christian tradition of torture, they confessed, and Philip prepared to relieve himself of debt by relieving the knights of their Paris holdings.  

However, charges of heresy trigger an automatic Papal Inquiry. As recently as 2002, Vatican Historian Barbara Frale finally located the “Chinon Parchment,” named after Chinon prison where the Knights were held. It recounts the findings of the three cardinals who conducted the Inquiry. The Initiation rites, as established at Troye Temple in France, were a pledge to be a serf & slave to the House forever. If a Knight consorted with women, he was warned, he would be put in chains. However, the Knights now confessed to a 2nd secrete rite, during which they denounced Christ, and spit on a crucifix. However, Pope Boniface, in a move that now seems prescient, absolved the Knights Templar.  He stated that the second rite was actually a sort of “SERE” training, stating Knights needed to demonstrate their abilities to do these things, in order to survive capture by Infidels.

The Knights were now absolved from from all sin. But Philip played his trump card, 200 years before Henry VIII, and threatened to form a separate Church of France. The Pope gave in. Just enough malfeasance was found among 20,000 Knights Templar members, such as odd charges of worshipping Venus and Aphrodite, and even the worship of a severed head. The Knights were finally dissolved in 1312, and eventually folded into the Knights Hospitaller.

But the end result was not what Philip hoped. The  Paris Temple was empty. The riches were not found in London or Vienna Temples, either. The Templar fleet disappeared from the Port of La Rochelle around time of the Knights Templars’ arrest. The best guess to this date was they may have sailed to Scotland, where Robert the Bruce protected them. Interestingly, in 1357,  the Turin Shroud emerged in Troye, the heartland of the Templars.

By 1453, Sultan Mehmet II, with a 70,000 Ottoman Turks Army, captured Constantinople, the hub of the East-West trade routes. Interestingly, up to 66% of the trade was peppercorn, from southern India, 1,000 tons a year. Renaming Constantinople Istanbul, Sultan Mehmet vowed the Holy Land would now be under one religion, and one rule. And the West needed new routes to the Far east spice trade.


Bartolomeu Diaz of Portugal, in 1483, stumbled upon the Atlantic Ocean gyre after he rode it into Cape Good Hope, South Africa during a storm. Within the next 50 years, up to 44,000 tons of goods a year would be shipped in these lanes. Next, we have Christopher Columbus, who underestimated the Atlantic crossing by 7,000 miles, missed his target by thousands of miles, and thought he landed in in Japan. Of course, it was actually the Bahamas, occupied by the Taino People. And Spain’s gold rush to South America was on.

However, the next big step in creating a global economy occurred sometime after 1579. Francis Drake, fortified by letters of reprisal from Queen Elizabeth I, began raiding Spanish cargo ships off the Pacific coast of South America. He captured the ship Cacafuego, carrying 26 tons of silver, worth about $30 million today, the greatest pirate haul in history. As it turned out, one of the Andes Mountain, Potosi, had silver veins up to 12 feet thick. Spain eventually minted 2.5 million silver coins a year, pesos de ocho, or pieces of eight, and now the world had its first universal currency.

With this new currency, along with the lucrative fur trade from North America, Europe was awash in money. New capitols arose in Seville, Lisbon, London, and Amsterdam. And of course we all remember the Great Tulip Craze, which crashed in 1637, and served as a lasting warning thereafter against unbridled greed, and exuberant speculation. Not.

Always the optimists, the capitalists went on to the next big thing, sugar cane, and needed slaves to work the great fields in the Americas and the Caribbean, to maximize profits. Over the next 300 years, 15 million people, the majority from Central Africa, were taken from their homes, and sold as slaves. Think about that the next time you reach for your sugar bowl.    

This brings me to my closing tale in the roots of the global economy, the opium “trade” between England and China. The British grew the poppies India, and opium became the widest traded commodity in the world in the early 19th century. 12 million Chinese eventually became addicted, draining China’s silver reserves, and tearing Chinese society apart. China’s “drug czar” even wrote to Queen Victoria, asking if the British had no conscience. However, the trade provided nearly 20% of England’s economy, so the answer apparently was “No.” With 10 time the fire power of China, England prevailed. Over the next four decades, British sales reach £10 million a year, roughly $1 billion today.

Yes, I work so I can buy things, so I do not need to make or grow everything I consume. And yes, I could live off the land my family and I own, and have even jokingly told friends they can come here to live when the US economy collapses. But I enjoy my career, and I enjoy the variety of experience this life style affords me. After all, if I wanted to, I could probably sell our land for a tidy sum, and tell my children and grandchildren to go somewhere else. I choose a space in between, neither rich nor poor, and earning more than just money with my labor.        

Credits:  Secrets Of the Cross  The Crusades Mankind: The Story of All of Us