Business and Polity: Dynamics of a Changing Relationship


D. N. Ghosh

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    ‘This is an in-depth and comprehensive study of the nature and evolution of the close relationship between business and polity over the last two millenniums and a half. Ghosh's lucid and fascinating account of this relation in different historical epochs and under diverse techno-economic and political set-ups, from Classical Greece to the modern-day United States, clearly brings out its crucial significance in making or marring fortunes of nations and provides an important perspective in understanding the ongoing interaction of business operations and government policies at both the national and the global level.’

    MihirRakshit Director, Monetary Research Project at ICRA, Calcutta Editor-in-Chief, Money and Finance

    ‘This book is a tour de force. In a lucid and engaging treatise, Dhruba Ghosh explores the nexus between business and politics, intertwined in history over a period that spans millenniums rather than centuries, to argue that the nature of this relationship shaped the rise and fall of civilisations and empires. The discussion is remarkable in its range and depth. And the story that it unfolds is fascinating. The glimpses of world history highlight how the evolution of business-politics dynamics exercised an enormous influence on outcomes in economy and society, from the past to the present. If anything, the essential hypothesis is even more relevant in our lives and times. This book should be of interest to people in the worlds of business and politics. It should also be of interest to readers in academia, media and civil society.’

    DeepakNayyar Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi Distinguished University Professor of Economics, New School for Social Research, New York

    ‘This book is unique in many ways. There is no shortage of books on India's historical and political legacy, or its future prospects as the world's largest democracy. Similarly, the socio-political and socio-economic order, as it has evolved over centuries, is well documented. However, I can think of no other book which brings all these together, and gives a new perspective on India and challenges that it faces in political as well as economic fields.

    As the author puts it, “this book is an odyssey,” and an excursion to explore how the world has evolved through different epochs of history. I strongly recommend this book to all those who are interested in our country's future. It is elegantly written and accessible to lay readers as well as academic researchers in different fields.’

    BimalJalan Former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India


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    I have known Mr D. N. Ghosh for several years. As Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, I sought his counsel on several intricate issues, and he has been very generous with his time and attention. Mr Ghosh has been of great help to Reserve Bank of India, especially in the area of non-banking financial companies' sector. Over the years, I have developed great respect for his intellect, insight, integrity and insistence on propriety while being pleasant, cheerful and firm. Mr Ghosh epitomises soft power. He is in many ways an innovator and an institution builder. I also heard of his work in the government, and read about his contributions to public policy during some of the turbulent times. His foray into academia may be news to the new generation, but both the compulsions that lead him there and his contributions are well known to us. His articles in the Economic and Political Weekly are constant reference materials. In this background, when Mr Ghosh suggested that I should write a foreword for this forthcoming book, I readily agreed in view of the honour involved.

    I read the manuscript that he sent for the purpose and reread it. Then I studied it carefully and was simply amazed at the scholarship, the depth of understanding and the breadth of his enquiry. The articulation is informative, impressive and convincing. On occasions, I wondered whether I was equal to the task of writing a foreword to such an erudite and unique piece of writing. However, I have benefited immensely from reading the manuscript carefully and being provoked to take up the complex challenge of writing a foreword. This process of careful reading helped me explore the contemporary relevance of this book, in addition to its lasting contribution to the literature on the history of political economy of the world.

    In India, political economy has been a relatively unexplored area. More important, the relationship between business and government, as it evolved over the centuries is a somewhat neglected area of scholarship. In the hierarchy of the caste systems, the trader comes below the ruling caste as well as the priestly caste, but above the rest, viz., the Shudras. But the ruling class always had a close relationship with business. During the Independence movement also, there were observable links between indigenous business and politics. Till recently, politicians and businessmen were separate entities for most part of their avocations. The position seems to be changing rapidly in the recent years. First, many of the businessmen have joined active political life, while many politicians turned to business as an additional occupation. Some people comment that the regimes of gentlemen-politicians has been replaced by businessmen-politicians or politician-businessmen. There is a second more important factor after the onset of the process of economic reform. While there have been large elements of deregulation and liberalisation, the role of the government continues to be dominant in a significant way in the process of reform, particularly in the area of privatisation of public enterprises or disinvestment and public-private participation in physical infrastructure like highways, and possibly social infrastructure like education. More important, the public policy in India under the reform period seems to have created an atmosphere conducive for rapid growth by being business-friendly, but not necessarily market-friendly. The latter would involve rules of the game which would enhance competitive efficiency and level playing fields based on respect for contracts rather than contacts. What would be the way forward in India? This book may provide clues to appreciating the dynamics of relationship between business and politics in India also. In any case I agree with the author that this dynamic is critical in understanding the current global financial crisis and in shaping the future of global economic and financial order.

    It is quite evident that the global financial crisis, and indeed, the global economic crisis has clearly been a turning point in the history of the world. Till a mere 300 years ago, China and India accounted for about half of the world output. They suffered a decline in their fortunes during the colonial era. While the second half of the 20th century saw an end to colonalisation and brought about division of the world into developed and developing economies; the developments in 21st century indicate a more diversified world. Different countries are at different levels of economic development and sophistication in the markets which seem to not only challenge the dominance of the United States, Europe and to some extent Japan, but also provide a spectrum of nation-states with diverse levels of economic development. As a consequence, it is possible that we will no longer have corner solutions (either this or that, but nothing else) but will increasingly have intermediate solutions to issues of economic policy.

    Globally the corporate sector seems to have developed a larger-than-life identity of its own, and has become powerful, but the sector is not necessarily maintaining continuous individual identities as corporates. The mergers, amalgamations and takeovers of corporates have become common, and thus the corporate identities are fast changing. However, the corporate sector as a whole has developed a global domination and a global presence. Their influence over politics is now no longer necessarily through one national government, but cuts across several countries. The managements of corporates, in particular in the financial sector, seem to have developed their own spheres of influence and interests that may not necessarily result in equitable distribution of surpluses among the stakeholders, in particular workers, shareholders and the management. In brief, in recent years the balance within the corporates between shareholders, board and management seems to have undergone significant change.

    The technological developments are constraining the capacity of the individual nation-state to exercise their power of intervention in the economic activity of individuals or corporates as they were able to do in the 20th century. Technological developments have a tendency to make cross-border movements very economical and hence can undermine the instruments of intervention available for the nation-states. At the same time, the consequences of cross-border movements on a nation's population have to be managed by the state. As Governor Mervyn King is reported to have said, ‘Banks are global in life and national in death’. Is it possible that globalisation of business, especially finance, was premature relative to globalisation of public policy or globalised governance? It is not clear whether history provides clues on this, though Mr Ghosh alludes to premature globalisation of finance relative to globalisation of its regulation.

    Within the corporate world, finance as a sector has emerged as a force by itself and has begun to acquire the character of ends than means. As it evolved in human history, finance was critical to both political matters and economic life, but it was viewed as a powerful ally of politics for most part, and often as a facilitator of wars and of promoting growth in output, whereby employment was created. In recent years, the financial sector has acquired a life of its own, with greater capacity to influence the politics not only at a national level but also in terms of relations between the nations. Further, finance increased its hold over real sector. A possible disconnect in the growth of real sector relative to that in the financial sector is emerging. This is illustrated by the fact that at the current stage of crisis management (March 2010), the financial markets seem to have rebounded globally and thrived, but employment and growth appear to be lagging behind, particularly in developed countries. It is not clear whether the booming financial markets are in anticipation of a definitive surge in real output and employment globally. In this regard, it is instructive to note from the book that, historically politics tended to have very diverse links with finance, its relationship ranging from antagonism to dependence, and from surrender to support; but for the most part collusive. Thus, finance had a dominant role in what Mr Ghosh calls the fiscal-military phase and in the more recent phase of US hegemony in the context of dollar as the global reserve currency.

    Recent debates on public policy consequent upon the global financial crisis focus on the relationship between the state and the market. It is often argued that the ongoing financial crisis reflects excessive belief in the efficiency and self-correcting mechanisms of markets. It is, therefore, argued that the state should be empowered so that the balance between the state and the market is restored with appropriate roles to each. Various initiatives are being considered for strengthening financial regulation and establishing a new global economic order as well as appropriate international financial institutions that could provide public goods, conducive to global growth, welfare and stability. These are essentially in the nature of creating a strengthened role for state, broadly defined to include intervention in the functioning of markets by the public policy.

    However, it is possible to argue that the recent financial crisis represents the failure of both the market and the state within and across nation-states. The apparatus of the state, in particular the independent central banks and regulators in the financial sector seem to have failed to discharge the duties assigned and deliver the outcomes that they had assured. There are sufficient grounds to believe that the crisis is a result of the capture of the government by the markets, especially by the financial institutions and financial markets. In other words, it can be argued that the crisis was not caused by a mere failure of regulators but a capture of the regulators and the governments by the financial markets. This plausible explanation of the crisis warrants an entirely different dimension to the traditional debate on state versus market. Consequently, the debate will have to concentrate a lot more on the relationship between the state and the market in each country on one hand, and the relationship between the nation-states, national markets and international markets, on the other. This book touches on this aspect while presenting the dynamics of economic change in different historical periods. It explains the interaction of two forces: the techno-economic structure in any society that is controlled by business, and the polity that is controlled by their ruling regime. It recognises that the two forces are distinct but coexist.

    The common elements in the narration of events that lead to the current financial crisis indicate that there has been close cooperation between the financial conglomerates and the ruling elite, that there has been competition for resources among these constituents within each country and that these forces ensured contagion in different degrees to different countries. Thus, as the world was led into the crisis, there have been different strategic elements of cooperation, competition and coordination between state and market, nations and supranations, financial and non-financial corporates. As a reaction to the efforts made to reduce the big government which led to the crisis, there now appears to be an effort to reduce the big business, in the financial sector, namely in big banks. The outcome of the current thinking is not obvious as of now since both desirability and feasibility are being discussed. In my view, the critical issue is not merely the bigness of the state or a corporate or a bank, but the quality of governance in both the state and the market. These obviously are products of several factors: cultural, institutional, technological and social. Often, it is recognised that cultural factors influence the behaviour of economic agents in the markets, but the markets also tend to influence the cultural factors. While these are not explicitly addressed in the book, the description of the events and the analysis of structure and dynamics of relationships between business and polity in the book do provide valuable clues to a better understanding of the current dilemmas.

    In terms of dominant values, the recent decades represent the height of respectability to market forces to an extent that is perhaps unprecedented in history. Historically, trade and finance were viewed with suspicion in general, though their useful role and indeed their attractiveness were not in doubt in most cultures, particularly in societies that valued material success. The recent heightened respectability to markets which was followed by the crisis now, has also resulted in, among other things, two sets of realisations. The first realisation is that economists and policy-analysts had underestimated the greed in human character. The second realisation has been that there has been a fundamental change in the human values globally which elevated markets to the status of God replacing traditional religion.

    The chapter on Fiscal Revolution and Grip of Financiers referring to 16th and 17th centuries is of great contemporary relevance in the context of the crisis management.

    Mr Ghosh in reflecting on that period of history mentions: ‘The fiscal apparatus within the state became little more than a front behind which the financiers carried on their affairs with studied indifference towards the damage they did to the government and contempt for the suffering of the taxpaying elements of the population.’ My question in the context of the current debates on public debt incurred in managing the crisis is: Will the surging public debt of many countries place the sovereigns at the mercy of financial markets that were bailed out by the sovereign in the first place?

    The chapter on ‘Pillars of US hegemony’ explains with great clarity the centrality of Washington in the support of world liquidity. That this has to change is recognised, but there is no clarity or consensus on the path towards change and destination of change. Mr Ghosh makes a brilliant summary of the masterly exposition made in the earlier chapters of the book in the chapter titled ‘Epilogue’ and the sections titled ‘Recapitulating’ and ‘Five Revolutions’ in the Epilogue deserve special mention here. He describes the globalisation of recent years as the Fifth Revolution ‘driven primarily by American hegemonic power, which is an amalgam of state and business power’. His contention is that there are clear signs that the United States is no longer in a position to offer ‘public good’ to global economy as it used to, mainly ‘through its failure to manage the global financial centre as a stable and responsible distributor of global liquidity’. Mr Ghosh sees need for change and speculates on signs of change. For a successful journey towards global stability, and by implication the process of global rebalancing, according to Mr Ghosh certain prerequisites have to be met by the United States. These include increasing productivity, acceptance that the margin of economic advantage that it enjoyed before is shrinking and willingness to concede that its capacity to use military power for political advantage is getting smaller.

    We need to speculate: Will that meeting of prerequisites in the United States happen and how will it happen? The narration of links between business and politics in the book gives several clues but understandably no answers. However, personally I found that the most common reason for collapse of civilisations as explained in the book was intolerable inequalities in wealth and income. Hence, in my view, it is necessary, particularly for the United States to recognise the need to contain and curb high inequalities in income and wealth as the most critical step for overall rebalancing that the world is in need of.

    A pertinent issue is the responsibilities of the major economies in the world, in facilitating, incentivising and persuading the United States to adopt the prerequisites mentioned by Mr Ghosh. These economies include the Euro area, Japan, China and India. A relevant issue is the sharing of burdens among these in the transition to a possible new global economic order, and here those economies which contributed more to imbalances so far have a harder task ahead.

    The history of nexus between business and politics analysed brilliantly in this book and the more recent apparent capture of public policy by financial sector shows that the path towards a new global economic order is not only a political process but one in which business, big business, especially the financial sector, will play a major role. I am afraid the ongoing public debates on new global financial architecture are yet to focus on the criticality of national and global businesses in this process.

    I thank Mr D. N. Ghosh for giving me the opportunity to write the foreword to this monumental work.

    Y. VenugopalReddy Emeritus Professor, University of Hyderabad Former Governor—Reserve Bank of India Hyderabad, India


    Time present and time past

    Are both perhaps present in time future,

    And time future contained in time past.

    If all time is eternally present

    All time is unredeemable (T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets)

    During the last two decades of the 20th century the world went through tumultuous changes. The global landscape was changing dramatically: the Berlin Wall was torn down, the mighty Soviet Union collapsed, China was taking the capitalist road to economic growth … It was, to all appearances, a victory for market capitalism and for the policies and institutions that the world's most prosperous and powerful country stood for. Trans-national corporations became the most visible instruments for the propagation of the capitalist message all across the globe. Market spirit came to be universally idealised and globalisation came to acquire a kind of quasi-religious sanctity.

    The tempest travelled over nations to sweep across our country as well, stirring in its wake spirited debates over how our policies and institutions could be restructured so that the maximum benefits could be drawn from the changing global environment. It was a theme that came to possess universities, think tanks, international seminars, business federations and various other forums. And underlying this theme was the unwritten premise that if an open and liberal market economy and ‘good policies and good institutions’ associated with it were to be adopted and developed, politics must learn to keep its hands off business, restricting its role to ensuring the rule of law, providing basic regulation and putting in place a social safety net.

    It is my participation in many of these debates and discussions that this book has grown out of. There were some who argued for caution in adopting the policies and institutions of the developed countries, emphasizing, in particular, that the context in which these policies and institutions had evolved over time be studied and understood first. But this view had few takers in our country, the idea being dubbed a hangover from the decades past. The overwhelming majority appeared to have been persuaded by Henry Ford's snappy verdict: ‘History is more or less bunk’. Listening to these debates and occasionally participating in them, I began to have the feeling that a kind of historical amnesia had gripped the elite of our society.

    It is this feeling that brought about the idea of exploring the ever-entwined relationship between business and politics. This relationship is always in a flux, being impacted by the continuous interaction between the two vital interest groups that create and redistribute wealth in society. The way historical circumstances have converged during different eras to deliver the next push to this evolving relationship should be a matter of interest to those who are involved in the political and economic affairs of today. Of course, that is not to say such a study would necessarily throw up lessons for emulation. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it, ‘Everything flows, and you cannot bathe twice in the same river.’ Nevertheless, time does weed out the non-essentials and what remains can serve as a pathfinder for the current generation.

    I tossed the idea first with Amit Bhaduri. He encouraged me to explore the relationship between business and politics and trace the behavioural patterns of these two interest groups through different epochs in history. Deepak Nayyar came to my aid and worked out a kind of periodisation that would be relevant to the subject. He volunteered, despite his multifarious commitments, to go through the first draft of this book, and pointed out many unnecessary departures and glaring gaps. I remain immensely grateful to him. I am also indebted to Bimal Jalan for readily agreeing to take a quick look at the draft in the final stages, and for offering many insightful comments on the epilogue. My gratitude to Mihir Rakshit for spotting areas that called for greater clarity of exposition. The deficiencies that remain are of course mine.

    It was so kind of Y. Venugopal Reddy to write the foreword. The piece is a masterly exposition of the political economy of the recent financial crisis, and of the contemporary relevance of the dynamics of the business-polity relationship—the theme of this book.

    For the completion of this book, I owe debts of gratitude to many. Two organisations, ICRA and Peerless, have been generous in providing logistical support whenever I needed it. I give my thanks to Patricia Sharpe and Promod Upadhya. Udayan Majumdar cheerfully bore the burden of giving some shape to the initial drafts of some of the chapters. I never felt I was working in isolation, that is, away from the University libraries, thanks to Akhtar Parvez, the librarian, who was always there to help me out in tracing reference material, books and journals. Without him and his excellent connections, I could not have dreamt of completing this project, as it involved extensive research into the works of specialists: economic historians, political scientists and sociologists.

    Somnath Dasgupta carefully and meticulously edited the final version: his sharp eye rescued me from many bloomers. Last, but not the least, the persuasive persistence of Elina Majumdar, the commissioning editor of SAGE, in completing the book within a time schedule; but for her, I would possibly have dragged on and on.

    Prologue: Heritage of Antiquity: Roots of Political and Economic Power

    Human society, in its evolution from hunter-gatherers to agriculture and domestication of animals and permanent settlements, gradually became stable, bounded and complex, giving rise to division of labour, social inequality and political centrality. This transition is a story of continuous cultural evolution, with local groups, spurred by their environmental needs, striking out on their own paths and transiting progressively to larger systems, shaping themselves through interaction and learning. The researches of anthropologists and sociologists bring out a wide array of factors and circumstances that influence the process of local evolution and diffusion of culture and the process of transition.

    Between the beginning of settled agriculture and the peak of the Roman Empire was a span of approximately eight thousand years. Archaeological findings allied with anthropological research tell a story of continuity in all known forms of human society: from relatively egalitarian, stateless societies to rank societies with political authority and eventually stratified civilised societies with states (Fried, 1967). The state is the final stage in the evolutionary process, the culmination of a slow, prolonged and connected growth process, precipitated at several stages by the somewhat random forces of population pressure and technological change.1 What gave it character was essentially the activities of loose associations transforming themselves into permanent centralised settlements and organising through political means their command over surpluses that accrue from economic activities within their territorial command. That this has been the general occurrence is confidently asserted by the sociologist Nisbet: ‘There is no historical instance of a political state not founded in circumstances of war, not rooted in the distinctive discipline of war’, though it subsequently diversified in peaceful activities or functions acceptable to the family or religious activities (Nisbet, 1976).

    There is little disagreement that these social and political complexes arose in river valleys where alluvial agriculture came to be practised. Agriculture had been the primary life-giving force driving these civilisations and its development was associated with property differentials and social stratification. In the small city-states that emerged in these complexes, propertied elites assumed political and associated control. In defining the civilisational complexes in terms of an extensive list of characteristics, Gordon Childe laid special emphasis on two: emergence of a ruling class and the means it deploys to have a say in the control and management of economic surplus that is generated through different forms, namely through agriculture and associated activities and through trade (Childe, 1951).

    Emergence of Property Forms: Ceremonial Temples

    Permanent possession of land by a settled family group conferred fixed economic resource, and those who could control strategic positions at river junctions, river fords or crossroads could mobilise a disproportionate amount of collective social power to turn it to their own use if needed. Such stratification emerged throughout the late fourth millennium. Sumerian records after 3000 bc show that, unlike the situation in most prehistoric villages, irrigated land was in much larger parcels than could be worked by individual families. With such permanent inequalities in property distribution, the strategic owners of core land with or without unusual alluvial or irrigational potential could command a greater economic surplus than the peripheral alluvial-irrigating neighbours. Also, they could have additional advantages accruing from trade through control along particular trade and communication routes, especially navigable rivers, and location of market places and store houses. Apart from the surplus that came to be generated through a combination of fixed property rights in land, other kinds of surplus-generating activities such as access to trade opportunities, came to be available to them. There were several alternative sources of creating wealth other than from land through a range of services from free persons, semi-free dependent labour and a few slaves. With the solidification of economic stratification embedded in wealth differentials, evident in all forms of social and economic activities, it was but inevitable that the dominant groups would come to acquire territorially centralised authority.

    This transition, as scholars have surmised on the basis of archaeological records, passed through a particular type of ceremonial centre, the temple, something that was fairly general among the earlier civilisations. Extensive social cooperation in irrigation agriculture was associated with a strong priesthood virtually everywhere (Steward, 1963). The main purposes of the temples were essentially mundane: to serve as an inter-village diplomatic service and to redistribute economic produce and encode public duties and private property rights. The priests in earlier civilisations were more secular, more administrative and political, as a diplomatic corps, irrigation managers and redistributors. The temple was a kind of redistributive state à la the economist Karl Polanyi. With these religious institutions emerged a form of collective power that offered genuine diplomatic solutions to real social needs, in the regulation of trade, diffusion and exchange of tools and techniques, marriage regulation, migration and settlement and definition of just and unjust violence (Mann, 1986).

    Ceremonial temple complexes had also developed a role for themselves. Greek and Asian temples had been offering various kinds of services that must have been of great help to the traders; they would deposit gold and treasures in temples with the priests acting as caretakers and sometimes as judges. The Babylonian Shamash was one of the market gods; originally, Jehovah was the market god of the tribe of Levi, at whose yearly festivals men of all tribes gathered to barter; the temple of Jerusalem was the centre of a financial network in the east, somewhat similar to that controlled by the later Christian Church over Western Europe.

    State and Property Rights: Intermixture

    State and private property rights were connected to and mutually supportive of one another. From the excavated tablets of the early city of Lagash, it is surmised that there was a complicated mixture of three property forms in land administered by the temple. There were fields owned by the city's gods and administered by the temple officials, fields rented out by the temple to individual families on an annual basis and fields granted to individual families in perpetuity without rent. The first and third forms were sizeable, denoting large-scale collective and private property, both employing dependent labour and a few slaves. The records show that collective and private property steadily merged, as stratification and state developed more extensively; a unified elite controlled the temples and large estates and held priestly, civil and military offices.

    The earliest urban civilisation appeared in Sumer, in the far southeast of Mesopotamia bordering the Persian Gulf, and Sumerians continued as the main dominant cultural force in southern Mesopotamia from before 3000 to about 2000 bc. The fundamental political unit was the city-state, with Ur, on the Gulf, being the most important of the Sumerian cities most of the time. From time to time, one city or another would establish a kind of hegemony over all or most of the river valleys nurturing the civilisational complexes. A clear hierarchy of social order seemed to have emerged and established itself in the cities.2

    One of the earliest records discovered at Ashur, a city-state in the 20th century bc, brings out clearly the kind of social and economic functions in these early states. The ruler, also the principal judge, ruled with the concurrence of three distinct bodies of citizens: the elders, the ‘town’ and the karum, interpreted to mean the people of the market, that is, the body of merchants who administered the commercial centre of the city. The karum acted as the bank of deposit, a centre for export and import, a clearinghouse and a chamber of commerce all rolled into one (Curtin, 1984: 68). During the old Babylonian period, the most significant piece of evidence attributed to Hammurabi, lawgiver of Babylon from about 1792 to 1750 bc, points to the existence of a class of independent merchants, known as Tamkaru, dominant in trade, brokerage and money lending, replacing the role of temples and royal monopolies as the source of capital. The House of Elgi, as recorded in inscriptions, carried out a wide variety of business activities combined with banking; they gave loans against securities and accepted a wide range of deposits. After having flourished for hundreds of years, this bank seemed to have faded from the scene some time during the 5th century bc. A similar but younger banking firm is that of the sons of Maraschu, which operated from the town of Nippur. Apart from the banking functions of the kind practiced by the House of Elgi, they specialised in what we would call renting and leasing arrangements. They administered—as agents of tax-farmers— the royal and larger private estates, they rented out fish ponds, financed and constructed irrigation canals and charged fees to farmers within their water networks, and they enjoyed partial monopoly on the sale and distribution of beer.3

    Trade as a Source of Wealth

    The development and expansion of trade, internal and external, started creating an alternative source of wealth other than from land. The existence of illuminating patterns of long-distance trade in preliterate societies points to the possibility of a wide range of relationships subsisting between the trade community and the host polity and society. Trade communities of merchants living among aliens in associated networks, as are found today in every continent, can be traced back through time to the very beginning of urban life. Familiar examples that come to mind are the chains of Phoenician and Greek trading towns that spread westward from the Levant or the Aegean coasts. Or some two thousands later, the Hanseatic League of independent trading towns, where merchants from Cologne on the Rhine settled along the trade routes down the Rhine and then eastward along the coast of North Sea and the Baltic.

    The relationship between the trading community and the host society, taking on a complex variety of forms, has been an interesting field of study for sociologists, political scientists and economic historians. It was a kind of mixed economy in today's parlance. Trade was carried out as a private enterprise with some form of commercial control by the government (Curtin, 1984: 67). While government participated directly in trade in food, it used primarily the independent merchants as its agents. From the rich collection of clay tablets discovered in Kultepe in Turkey, the site of Kamesh, a settlement of Assyrian merchants, and the settlement of at least 20 other Assyrian commercial settlements in central and western Anatolia, there is adequate evidence to show that while the merchants were free to do their trade, they had to pay protection costs as the inescapable price for doing business. The authorities who have studied the Kultepe tablets portray an economic order where political authorities interfered in trade as much as they could to suit their particular interests, but they were careful not to suppress the underlying play of supply and demand, though the traders had to pay protection money for doing business. The Assyrian commercial documents refer to local authorities as the ‘palace’, where the Assyrian traders were welcome guests. The ultimate authority of the palace was undisputed. The visiting merchants had their own corporate organisation to act for the group. It took the form of a network of Karu; at the head was karum, in Ashur itself, below that Karum in Kamesh, and still further down the line a number of other karu in other Anatolian towns. The kind of relationship interpreted from Egyptian records is substantively no different. Traders had to carry on their operations under strict government control, though they were welcome to bring the special articles they needed (Curtin, 1984: 68–70).

    In the palace-centred economies, trading merchants were recognised as communities that rendered useful service, but they were never accepted as part of the ruling power complex. It was somewhat like how the Jewish merchants came to be treated in medieval Europe. In oral traditions embodied in literary sources from the Aegean age, we often find a clear distinction between fighting men and the cautious, anaemic businessmen worn down with the care of cargoes. According to the predominance of one type or other, there developed trader-communities and warrior-communities and the hostility between them seemed to have been a fundamental fact of ancient history.


    The sack of Troy in about 1200 bc, symbolising the end of Aegean prosperity and of the Minoan-Mycenaean age, was the beginning of what is generally talked of as the Dark Ages in the Mediterranean world. Lasting down to about 750 bc this saw the end of the palace-centred state and the emergence of city-states in the Mediterranean, from the archaic period (8th to 6th centuries bc) to the classical period (5th to 4th centuries bc). Two decentralised civilisations around the Mediterranean dominated the first millennium Bc—Phoenica and Greece.

    The Phoenician states of the Levant coast, entering a power vacuum along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean left by the collapse of the Hittites and the Mycenaeans and the retreat of Egypt to the Nile, emerged as a dominant power for about five centuries. It was exclusively a naval and trading power, the ‘bride of the sea’, united by a loose federal, geopolitical alliance of city-states. In the 10th and 9th centuries, Tyre probably enjoyed some primacy over other cities of Phoenician and was ruled by kings whose power was limited by the merchant oligarchy. Phoenicians, as a rule, did not fight unless they had to. In Tyre and Sidon, they paid tribute to oriental monarchs instead of striking for independence. The Phoenicians, unlike the Greeks, were not looking for lands to settle but for anchorages and staging points on the trade route from Phoenicia to Spain, a source of silver and tin. The Phoenician coastal towns eventually lost their naval supremacy to the Greeks and their political independence first to Nebuchadnezzar II, and then to the Persians, all in the 6th century bc.

    Emergence of Empires

    Though the multi-city structure in early civilisations continued for several centuries, the autonomy of city-states began to weaken as regional confederations emerged. Gradually, they were conquered by extensive empires, with large and hierarchical organisation of power. From the rise of the great world empire of Sargaon of Akkad (2500–2350 bc) to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West (ad 476), the historical record is filled with a bewildering profusion of empires and their rulers. How were the ruling regimes relating to the enterprisers of resource generating economic activities to realise their political objectives? We explore these relationships in five civilisations: Greek, Roman, Indian, Chinese and Arab, roughly covering about 15 centuries, from the five centuries before Christ to the end of the first millennium.


    1. The state forms—in embryo in the stratified society and the transition to the final form, as Oppenheimer argues in his classic sociological study of The State—are marked by six stages. The first stage, of continuous raiding and killing between groups, was followed by one in which a dominant group extended a protective cover to others for carrying out agricultural and connected economic activities, a critically important step ‘where the bear becomes the beekeeper’. The third stage arrives when the peasants regularly bring the surplus as tribute to the ruler. This tribute is found in many well-known instances in history: Huns, Magyars, Tartars and Turks have derived their largest income from this source. What follows is the union of warring groups in command of specific territories. Gradually, the territorial rulers acquire the right to arbitrate and the means to enforce it, marking the near completion of the evolution of the primitive state.

    2. For a good summary based on archaeological evidence, see Philip D. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History,Chapter 4.

    3. See Heichelheim, 1958, as quoted in A History of Money, Glyn Davies, 1994, 50.


    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

    Let us go and make our visit.

    —T.S. Eliot1

    This book is an odyssey undertaken to explore and understand the relationship between business and politics as it has evolved through different epochs in history to stand at where it does today. This intersection of politics, business/economics and sociology has always interested scholars from a range of disciplines with different perspectives. Pluralists like Robert A. Dahl and Erik Olson debate the impact of competing interest groups on policy processes. Sociologists like Charles Wright Mills and Michael Useem dissect the nature of influence exercised by large business corporations on political decision-makers and the channels that are used for this purpose. Then, Vernon, Caves and Dunning, among others, made the corporation itself an important subject of enquiry in international relations in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly because of the influence of the market-driven global compass of corporate operations. Next to the pluralist and neo-corporatist perspectives, there is a clutch of methodological approaches (Buchanan and Tullock, 1962) that apply economic models to political processes. These studies characterise the political market as one in which interest groups invest resources to obtain favourable decisions or non-decisions from politicians, who in turn pursue their self-interest by gathering resources and support (Fuchs, 2008).

    Business corporations operating across geographies face complex operational issues involving the sovereign governments with which they have to interact. The host and the home states have large, though often conflicting, stakes in the ways the global business corporations function. These are not technical or legal issues that the corporations can resolve on their own; these can be sensitive issues that make the involvement of the home government critical. Global business corporations, located mostly in the developed countries, have their own equations with their home governments. The functional and geographical dispersion of these corporations over the past three centuries and the economic power that they have come to wield are linked inextricably with the gradual rise to the hegemony of these advanced countries. Little wonder that these hegemonies and the global business corporations, between themselves, have set the policies that govern the structure of geo-political and economic relations in today's world.

    The journey on which we embark seeks to unravel how and why we have come to inherit the present configuration of power and thereby enhance our ability to make informed decisions to shape the future. A hegemonic power is a product of history. Joseph Schumpeter had once remarked that the compulsion of the insistent present makes us oblivious of the truth of the past sanctified by centuries. Human decisions taken at crucial stages have changed the course of history; these decisions, taken individually or collectively, may have been influenced by ideology or by technology or by a mere instinct of power or wealth grabbing.

    We are now at a turning point in global history. As we try to understand more of the past, we begin to make some sense of our times. We begin to see our times not as an everlasting present, but as a historical period. The contemporary world has come into existence through a very tortuous route. It has very little in common with the road maps of history on which ideologues of every description draw their straight lines.

    Dissecting the Dynamics

    The potential energy inherent in any society often expresses itself in changing profiles of material output, patterns of employment and class distribution of income. The single most important element residing deep within the system is the driving need to extract wealth through activities that a particular socio-economic configuration may permit. This is, in a sense, the logic of a system that ‘expresses the potential energy created by its nature … What is logical about these movements is that they express the outcome of the system's nature, as a released spring expresses the energy stored up within it’ (Heilbroner, 1985: 25).

    How does the inner nature express itself? In an abstract philosophical vein, each society in each period of history, as Hegel elaborates, is a structurally interrelated whole, unified by some inner principle. For Hegel, it is the Geist, or the inner spirit, the style of a period. For Marx, it is the mode of production that determines all other social relations; historical change occurs through a dialectical process, with the new mode negating the previous one while also preparing the way for the next to come.

    Many sociologists are not comfortable with the Hegelian-Marxist conception of society as an integral entity defined by its web of interconnectedness and one whose movement may be explained through the dialectical approach. The Marxist theory is perceived as having failed to predict the direction of historical development, let alone its timing. Politically, many see the culmination of Marxist dialectic not in universal freedom and prosperity with the withering away of the coercive state as predicted by Marx, but in an oppressive and grossly inefficient state capitalism.

    As against the holistic view of society, it may be more useful if we are to understand the dynamics of economic change through the interaction of two forces: the techno-economic structure in any society that is controlled by business in its own interest and the polity that is controlled by the ruling regime for purposes it considers to be for the collective good. The two forces are distinct, but co-exist in an unordered manner, each with a different axial principle. Each has, in a sense, its own realm and the two realms are not congruent with one another. They have different rhythms of change and follow different norms that legitimise different and even contrasting types of behaviour. But the way these two realms function and interact may create a dynamic that may become decisive in changing or even destroying societies.

    In any society—primitive, imperial or capitalist—the dynamic expresses itself through a continuous creative process that extracts wealth to generate a surplus over what is required for maintenance or reproduction. The way that surplus is generated, accumulated and redistributed holds the key to the relationship between business and polity. In a broad sense, business generates and accumulates surplus while it is polity that redistributes the surplus—and also has the responsibility to create conditions that facilitate the production of this surplus.

    Two Realms: Business and Politics

    Business is imbued with a ‘restless Faustian spirit’ that takes as its motto ‘the endless frontier’, and as its goal ‘the complete transformation of nature’ (Bell, 1978). This acquisitive spirit, which is the central theme in Werner Sombart's exposition of capitalism,2 respects no absolute limit.

    Acquisitive orientation is, however, not confined only to the Age of Capital; it was manifest in pre-capitalist formations as well. In Classical Greece, Medieval Europe and Japan, or in China during the course of its dynastic cycles, business as a calling did not enjoy the kind of social recognition that it does today, given the cultural and religious milieu then prevailing, but, nonetheless, its march continued unabated.

    Essentially, business signifies the single-minded pursuit of all those activities that contribute to the generation of surplus and its accumulation, in agriculture, industry, trade, finance or any associated ancillary and supportive services. It is the opportunity for generating more surplus that drives business forward; ‘the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit’, as Max Weber puts it (Weber, 1981: 17). The critical source of surplus is derived from the different kinds of activities undertaken by business, from a money sum to a larger money sum through commodities, as Marx's M-C-M' formula so brilliantly schematises the repetitive, expansive metamorphosis through which accumulated surplus manifests itself. M stands for money, C for commodity, and M' for money plus an increment, equating surplus value. Surplus expands through the very logic of the process, one that Wallerstein describes as ‘network of commodity chains’ of commodities that link together more and more of the separate steps involved in the production of goods, beginning with the extraction of raw materials and ending with the sale of finished items. These commodity chains combine small, discrete M-C-M' steps into longer strides, converting many small profits into fewer larger ones (Wallerstein, 1979). Marx's M-C-M' formula is a powerful tool that can be extended to the pre-capitalist circuit (C-M-C) where the commodity is the object and money merely the intermediary, or the new world of globalised finance where there can be a straight route from M to M'.

    Owners of business generate a surplus through various modes such as agriculture and related activities, trade, crafts, mechanised production or any other innovative combination of factors of production for meeting the needs of the society. Harvey captures the essence when he defines business in generic terms as ‘the molecular processes of capital accumulation in space and time’ that flows ‘through continuous space, towards or away from territorial entities, through the daily practices of production, trade, commerce, capital flows, money transfers, labour migration, technology transfer, currency speculation, flows of information, cultural impulses and the like’ (Harvey, 2003: 26–27). We use the term ‘business’ in this all-inclusive sense here.3 The opportunities for the generation of surplus from the pursuit of any of the activities that Harvey lists keep changing as an economy evolves and diversifies and depending on the context, this book uses the term trade, industry, plantation or any other species of productive activity as a proxy for business.

    Politics in a general sense is the activity to pursue and attain goals through the exercise of regulatory and coercive power, centrally administered and territorially bounded— that is, state power. A political regime may be motivated by a diverse range of interests beyond self-preservation, by objectives such as acquisition of territory, enhancement of coercive reach, acquisition of wealth through military exploits or spread of cultural, religious and ideological beliefs. Territorial boundaries— in a world never yet dominated by a single state—also give rise to regulated interstate relations where geo-political diplomacy assumes importance. A polity will require different kinds and orders of resources; through successive civilisations, political power holders had to necessarily turn to business, to actors who operate in the resource generating activities.

    Structure of Relationships

    Business and polity have been closely interlinked at any given time—whether economic growth, stagnation or decline—since polity needs resources. While the focus of interest of the two power networks is different, they have come together for many common objectives. Through history, these objectives have been found to have been associated almost invariably with war or war-like activities such as conquest or plunder or with their direct fallout or unintended consequences.

    Polity may rightfully appropriate a part of the surplus that business generates, as the price for extending a protective umbrella over business, but ruling political regimes may be driven on occasion to adopt coercive measures for raising resources, for self-preservation or for greater glory and power and even try to expropriate the accumulated surplus or wealth of business communities. This imposes an unsustainable burden on business, stifling its incentives to grow; it also creates a fundamental dilemma for the polity. The polity has to be strong enough to enforce private property rights but wise enough to refrain from using its strength to expropriate private property. If business does not get protective cover from the polity, it may be forced to move out and seek protection from other regimes, as happened, for example, during the religious persecution in Europe in the 16th century.

    Business has also been found to have demonstrated its capability to assert its bargaining power in relation to polities through capture of strategic functions such as financing of rulers (Heilbroner, 1985: 42). When the major European powers were venturing out in the Atlantic, they were prepared to share part of their sovereign powers in several areas with the companies set up by merchant communities to explore new trading opportunities. The two classes of actors have been accommodating when their interests have converged and even, on occasion, when they had nursed antagonistic opinions; we have also seen a fusion of two interests, when, for example, the wealth-creating business class takes upon itself the role and responsibilities of the ruling class or vice versa. This has been particularly visible at many turning points in history: the collapse of the Roman Empire; the withering away of the Islamic hegemony; the breakdown of the feudal system; maritime exploration into the Atlantic or the onset of the industrial revolution. When this happens, we may talk of a crisis or a revolution meaning a turning point so decisive that the system comes to an end and is replaced by one or more alternative successor systems or is changed completely beyond recognition. Such were the turning points at the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire or of the Abbasid Arab Empire. This may not be a quick event but a ‘transition’, a long period lasting a few generations.

    This book presents a historical overview of the relationships between business and polity as they have come to evolve via numerous twists and turns at different periods in the past, beginning from the ancient economy to the global capitalist economy of today. We will follow a chronological pattern, but as the canvas is broad, we will be selective.

    Outlining the heritage of our antiquity in the prologue, we start with the early civilisational complexes—Graeco-Roman, Chinese, Indian and Arab—and continue to the end of the 1st millennium ad. Then we deal with the explosion of maritime trade in the first five centuries of the 2nd millennium ad; trade that linked regions and polities from the Muslim Mediterranean in the west to China in the extreme east and anchored by India in the middle. During the same period, two feudal regions, Japan and Europe, were lying in obscurity; they were to flower later, but theirs is an exciting story during the incubation period. Our focus here will be on critical events and circumstances that brought about this change: the emergence of strong and independent business communities within medieval Europe, the rise of cities, guilds, communes and merchant republics, the establishment of powerful fiscal-military and mercantilist states, the age of the trading empires, the imperial phase of the 19th century and the post-World War II developments that led up to the current phase of a globalised world dominated by a super-power.

    As we go along, we will analyse the conjuncture of events and circumstances that had a significant influence on the business-polity dynamics, how these dynamics evolved within the political, economic and technological framework of each period. We will also focus on some core elements of this relationship—for instance, attitude towards property rights, the rule of law, business innovations, mobility of capital and such other aspects—the purpose being to gain a perspective on the origin and evolution of the capitalist ethic and culture that we find today.


    1. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, T.S. Eliot, 1917.

    2. Sombart identified greed and gold as the drivers of capitalism, as of all humans endeavour. Though his own exposition of the development of capitalism was unsystematic and contradictory (See New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics Vol. 4), his emphasis on money making as the driver, is relevant. ‘The love of money is one of the founders of human society … no less than Columbus found out’ (Bell, 1978: 292).

    3. The term the businessman was first used in the US in the 1830s to denote a type of merchant who traded not only in goods but also in land and whatever else could result in a profit (Swedberg, 2005: 16).

  • Epilogue: Stirrings for a New Configuration

    Man's struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetfulness

    —Milan Kundera

    Our odyssey has now come to an end. We have sailed through several civilisational complexes over the past 2,500 years in which were embedded a variety of political and economic formations. We have watched out for the behaviour of two power networks: those who control the levers of political power and those who engage themselves in wealth generating activities, how they had been found interacting between themselves and how the forces released through such interaction have impacted historical change. The dynamics of the two powerful networks that constitute business and politics take us from one historical epoch to another. It does not follow any immutable law. The transition is basically path dependent, where change is transmitted through a series of feedbacks that give momentum to the system, pushing it forward in a direction set by the past and carrying it into the future.

    The chapters of the book were remembrances of the past, of the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of many great civilisations, and give us insights into how the outcomes were primarily influenced by the interactive dynamics of political and economic processes. The course of events was driven as much by the inexorable march of economic forces as by the unpredictability of human wills. The cycles of birth, growth and decline of civilisations have no preset pattern. They do not necessarily offer an infallible guide to the future, but it will nevertheless be unwise to ignore the past.

    Passing through a wide spectrum of political regimes, from the agriculture-intensive civilisations in the vast land mass of Eurasia to the capital-intensive civilisations in northwest Europe and America, we have observed that each civilisational complex has its distinctive characteristics. Out of the layers of those crowded experiences, we have in this epilogue tried to extract a few lessons that continue to be as relevant as they were in the past; we should not become, as Toynbee once said, victims of non-learning of those lessons that have certain universal relevance.

    Recapitulating: Politics in Command

    In the empires of antiquity, land was the principal source of wealth and the farming community, as the generators of that wealth, supported and nourished the political superstructure. Ruling political classes, themselves large holders of landed wealth, would normally aim to maintain a kind of relationship with the peasant community that would keep them contented, for they constituted the main resource for the polity for the conduct and prosecution of war. Ancient Greece of the classical period in the 5th century bc was an exemplar: through Solon's path-breaking land reforms, it restructured the landholding pattern to make it more equitable, established a democratic constitutional structure and paved the way for a cohesive and stable polity. Rome was a striking contrast: its governing class failed to discipline itself, becoming far too self-centred, acquiring wealth for its personal benefit in complete disregard of the interests of the farming community, even though it provided the main resource for the spectacular rise of the Republican Rome. The ruling class thus dug its own grave.

    The making and unmaking of the Arab Empire was an interesting variant. The Arabs built up a colossus with lightning speed, and nursed it carefully, exploiting the potential for trade in the conquered territories by allowing freedom to the merchants to carry on uninterrupted their business activities. The Caliphs understood the value of a mutually supportive relationship between business and polity. While this ensured peace and prosperity for nearly three centuries, the ruling class became victims, in the later decades of the Arab Muslim Empire (as was in the case of the Roman Empire), of an insatiable craze for acquiring personal wealth for themselves, in collaboration with the business class; this led to a creeping deterioration of political governance followed by its terminal decline.

    The key to prosperity and stability for the polity was a pragmatic and positive approach towards business. Such pragmatism as observed in land-based civilisations in antiquity has three aspects. The first is a balance between the political ambition of the ruling class and the availability of resources from the wealth-generating sources. A wise polity would not only not allow these sources to dry up but also create conditions for sustained agricultural prosperity and welfare of the peasant community. Chinese imperial regimes had been farsighted in this regard. It had never been easy for any polity to keep this balance; the late Imperial Western Roman world and the Chinese dynastic cycles give illuminating insights into the consequences of the failure.

    Second, logistics of garnering and managing the economic surplus extracted from the peasant community had been of crucial importance. China showed the way as to how these relationships could be institutionalised. It was far ahead of the times in establishing fiscal and bureaucratic machineries within the state to guard against any arbitrariness. This explains in a way why China was successful in ensuring a relatively longer run for its dynasties than many of its contemporaries as, for example, the Mauryan Empire in India, even though the Mauryans had a reasonably efficient land revenue policy.

    Third, in the imperial polities there prevailed cultural and ideological inhibitions against trade as a calling. This created unenviable dilemmas for the ruling classes: they could not brush aside the diktat of the cultural czars nor could they ignore the benefits that could accrue to the polity by using the resource from trade. The Greek polity was wise enough to adopt a pragmatic attitude, encouraging foreigners and resident non-citizens, mainly slaves, to engage in trading activities. This was a kind of laissez-faire ambience that allowed businessmen to flourish and prepare the foundations of Athenian prosperity. China, on the contrary, was averse to encouraging trade, being apprehensive that traders acquiring economic power and wealth could pose a challenge to the existing power structure rooted and derived from agriculture. This put China at a disadvantage in optimising its resource raising options from different sources and curbed its ability to grapple with the geopolitical convulsions on its northern frontier.

    Harmonious Balance

    As we move from land-based civilisations of antiquity to the present, we observe that the relative importance of land-based sources progressively declines, though it continues to retain its importance in the political regimes within the vast landmass of Eurasia. By the beginning of the second millennium, maritime trade acquired a long-distance global character that was much more extensive and intensive than what prevailed in the earlier centuries. Previously isolated peoples were brought into closer contact, leading to intensive cultural interaction between Mediterranean, African and Asian civilisations. An extensive network of trade developed, among the regions accessing the Indian Ocean, extending from China in the East to the Islamic regimes in the Middle East in command of the Mediterranean, with India as the pivotal link. The geopolitical medium through which merchants and their goods circulated was generally frictionless and continuous. Trade emerged, apart from land, as an important source of wealth, marking a shifting configuration in business-polity relationships.

    During this period, when trade was in the ascendant, ruling the high seas along the trading line from the Sea of China to the Mediterranean, two regions were lying secluded, within the self-contained feudal socio-economic structures, at the two ends of the long trading line: Japan at the eastern end and northwest Europe at the other end. For business it was a story of contrasts. In Japan, with a strong feudal tradition, with powerful chiefs concentrating political, economic and feudal powers in their hands, business had to struggle hard for survival; traders survived by sharing profits from trading with the feudal chiefs. Japan had to wait till 1868 when the Meiji restoration removed the feudal shackles. On the other hand, in northwest Europe, history turned out to be in the favour of business. The ruling princes, involved as they were, in their feudal and dynastic wars, left business relatively free to pursue its course. In fact, the ruling princes receiving financial support from the merchant community whenever needed, and gave it protective cover in return.

    Five Revolutions

    Europe reached a watershed in the 16th century. We have traced the series of coincidences through which Europe arrived at this century. Many causal paths, some long term and steady, others recent and sudden, others old but with a discontinuous historical growth, came together at a particular time and place. A series of coincidences, but nonetheless the continuance of this process has been a miracle. And then over the next four hundred years, several revolutions took place, in conjunction and in succession.

    The first spark was radical changes in warfare technology; these were enormously more resource-guzzling than what the world had ever seen before, and beyond what the feudal economic structure could provide. With the onset of the Military Revolution, the ruling classes started relating to business entrepreneurs for exploring new avenues of resources outside the feudal ones. These relationships proved basically unstable. With no institutionalised fiscal arrangements to service their debts, the princes were unable to ensure uninterrupted flow of finance for their military ventures. Also the reliance on mercenaries had its own risks for they could be faithless. It became necessary for the princes to internalise the logistics of organisation and administration of men, material and finances, by creating within the framework of government resource-raising fiscal machinery with bureaucratic underpinnings. This led to a series of transformations in business-polity relationships—from the earlier ad hoc and personalised arrangements between princes and business houses, into institutionalised collaborative arrangements. The outcome was the strong fiscal military states that came to be developed with the help of financial techniques and expertise made available by the business and financial community. Business was thus involved in numerous ways in state formation. This is the Second Revolution in the relations between business and polity.

    The growing relationship between business and polity deepened when Europe was hit by an economic crisis in the 17th century. The partnership then took an overtly economic character, the underlying rationale of which has been termed mercantilist philosophy by later economic historians. This was a combination of fiscalism and mercantilism that could not have come about except through the strong bonds that had come to be cemented earlier. Ad hoc collaboration deepened through fruitful partnership leading to the formation of a fiscal-military-mercantilist state that lay at the roots of European hegemony in later centuries. This is the Third Revolution in business-polity relations.

    The Atlantic exploration, marking the beginning of Europe's age of conquests and settlements, was the Fourth Revolution. It was spearheaded through a tactical combination of the military power of the state and the aggressive grabbing instinct that European business had acquired over the past few centuries. This new dimension of relationships between polity and business came to be forged during the westward expansion of the Atlantic powers. The nations on the Atlantic seaboard believed that their national interests lay in development of long-range and large-scale international markets through aggressive warfare. War and trade went hand in hand. The international arena became their arena for expansion, with political regimes and business entrepreneurs working hand in hand.

    During this revolution, Britain secured a competitive advantage over her rivals. The core of her strategy lay in giving freedom to business to explore new avenues of trade and to acquire and control, if need be, territorial possessions, in support of business ventures, with the full assurance that the state would extend naval support whenever needed. It is not that the other major powers were passive, but none could equal the ‘adaptive efficiency’ of British polity and business. The aggressive culture that came to be moulded through competitive power struggles and through encounter with other civilisations lay at the core of what we call imperialist expansion. The spread of Commercial and Industrial Revolutions all over the globe cemented the business-polity relationships and laid the foundation for Pax Britannica. All this in essence is the precursor to today's globalisation, the Fifth Revolution, which has engulfed the entire globe under American leadership.

    Hegemonic Leadership

    Today's globalisation, the Fifth Revolution, is driven primarily by American hegemonic power which is also an amalgam of state and business power, though it is different from Pax Britannica. US polity and transnational business had been playing complementary and supporting roles for nearly two centuries. In periods of geopolitical turmoil the two roles get so intertwined that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to separate one from the other. It is through the combined strength of the two powers, overt or covert, that the United States has been able to maintain its hegemony since the end of the World War II. In a progressively globalising economy driven by the principle of free markets, business corporations in the United States and in other developed countries have been trying to preserve a pattern of asymmetries that works in their favour through the exercise of monopoly power, enforcement of unfair and unequal exchange and several kinds of extortionate practices. US politics, in particular, has been consistently engaged in ensuring that US business is enabled to sustain and exploit whatever asymmetries and resource endowment advantages can be assembled by way of state power (Harvey, 2003: 33).

    Hegemony is not sheer domination; it is, to use Gramsci's definition, something different, the additional power that accrues to a dominant group by virtue of its capacity to lead society in a direction that not only serves the dominant group's interests but is also perceived by subordinate groups as serving a more general interest. Dominant groups have the capacity to present their rule as credibly serving not just their interests but also in the delivery of certain global public goods. It aims to ensure stability not only at the domestic level, but also, at the global level, both on the political and economic fronts. It also means that if there be disruption, it possesses the wherewithal, whether by itself or in collaboration with others, to bring it back to equilibrium.

    Signs of Change

    There are clear signs today that the United States is no longer in a position to offer what is generally accepted to be ‘public goods’ by the global community. Its hegemonic power is getting undermined in several respects. For example, there is a disturbing asymmetry between the political ambition of the hegemonic power and its capacity to continue to finance it without creating a potential threat to global financial stability. Though the United States has vast military power, the use of that power for political advantage is turning out to be counter-productive. The United States is simply unable to fund out of its savings the political commitments undertaken by its polity. The margin of economic advantage it used to enjoy is gradually shrinking. The United States has but 4.5 per cent of the world's population and around 20 per cent of its income when measured by purchasing power parity. By 2050, the share of population may decline slightly, but its share of GNP is likely to decline rather sharply, perhaps to a mere 10 per cent of income (Sachs, 2005: 359). It cannot expect that the present arrangements by which the United States finances its fiscal deficit by drawing on the savings of other countries can continue indefinitely. Allowing the United States to pile up debt depends on the perception that the global power is providing public goods that the rest of the world considers acceptable. For some it was so in the cold war era, but it is no longer now. This inability on the part of the United States to pay its own way by increasing its own productivity is a standing threat to global stability; this has worsened further with its failure to manage and regulate the global financial system. The recent financial crisis, which originated in the United States, has jeopardised the momentum of global growth. The United States is no longer in a position to service the global community as a stable and responsible distributor of global liquidity. The world remains on the edge of a precipice.

    A New Configuration?

    In the changing economic and political reality of today's world, the United States has to work along with other nations towards global stability. With its command over enormous scientific, technological and economic resources, the United States can certainly contribute towards global prosperity, but it must learn to adjust its role to meet the expectations of the global community. It has to shed its belief that a set of political and economic values like liberty, democracy, equality, private property and markets' which, as Samuel Huntington writes, are at the core of the national identity of the United States, are universally acceptable.1 It must accept that any interference in national affairs, however indirect, in the name of democracy or economic development, evokes painful memories of the arbitrary and cynical nature of colonial rule. Its political objective has to fit in within the framework of a harmonious comity of nations.

    The last two decades have witnessed a remarkable shift in the distribution of economic power and resources within the global community. Developing countries have travelled a long way from the time when Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish Nobel prize winning economist, wrote that Asian countries were doomed to remain impoverished thanks to overpopulation, inadequate savings and poor education (Myrdal, 1968). The burgeoning growth of some of the developing countries is testimony, ironically though it may sound, that the impetus towards globalisation, pushed by the hegemonic power through TNCs, has been the major contributing factor towards growth. Even after the recent global crisis, the reactions to a liberalised business ambience—propagated as gospel for much of the 20 years since the end of the Cold War by the United States with sporadic support from industrialised countries such as the UK and institutions including the International Monetary Fund—have been measured among the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the other key emerging markets. In fact these countries are gently pushing forward reforms based prima facie on a philosophy of eclectic pragmatism rather than of wholesale retreat into autarchic nationalism. While countries have been adapting themselves, determined overwhelmingly by domestic considerations, to the new realities, they are increasingly becoming conscious that the business-centric political policies that lie at the core of the economic ideology of globalisation have to undergo significant changes.

    For centuries, the business-polity relationship has primarily revolved, almost exclusively, around the interests of the two groups, the ruling political regimes and the wealth-creating elite groups. This relationship needs a fundamental reorientation in the changing geopolitical environment in the interest of political and economic stability at the global level. It is being increasingly realised that the needs and aspirations of other interest groups in the society, equally important for its stability, are intimately connected with the way wealth is created and distributed. Each nation has therefore to strive to restructure the relationship in a way that answers to the needs of the different stakeholders of the society. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is a grudging recognition by wealth creators that, apart from creating value for their owners, it is incumbent on them to accept social responsibility for their acts of omission and commission.

    The diverse wealth-generating activities of the economic entrepreneurs have to focus on the generation of employment and economic opportunities firmly anchored, not on the needs of the wealth creators, per se, but on creating a harmonious balance between diverse interest groups. In particular, it would be dangerous to ignore the interests of the poor and deprived communities who have become increasingly assertive, even in nations which are the new emerging high-growth economies of today. The disadvantaged can no longer be left to remain as spectators to history; they want to be and have to be made active participants in the process of change and development.

    Delivery of global public goods such as counter terrorism, action to control environmental damage and climate change—all these make daily headlines, but one that does not, even though it is equally important, is elimination of poverty. Arguably, poverty lies at the root of many of the political and social ills of today. Decade after decade of development has resulted in failed development goals, leaving about one-third of the world's population marginalised. The structural adjustment programmes of the late 1970s and 1980s have added to the miseries in several countries. This lies at the core of the anti-globalisation movement. Shorn of its rhetoric, it has a powerful point to make, namely, that the kind of globalisation that is being driven by the TNCs under the protective umbrella of the United States means in substance public subsidy for the rich and market discipline for the poor.

    In an interdependent world that has become virtually interdependent, the need for a reorientation of business-polity relationships has to be accepted not only as a national but also as a truly global responsibility. Well-conceived and transparent policies are needed at the political level, designed and enforced to ensure better investment decisions for stronger and more sustainable economies. Such policies should take a fresh look at the basic building blocks of business and free markets: accounting, disclosure, incentives, regulation and responsibility. We must revisit standards of governance and ethics of market capitalism and fundamentals necessary for a strong and functioning capital markets.

    This apart, behaviour of TNCs in different developing nations or of movement of people across nations cannot be left to unregulated market forces or to the whims of individual nations. The role of TNCs, for example, that has been an indispensable part of US hegemonic power has to undergo a fundamental change. Certainly the global community would like to preserve and nurture the kinds of scientific and technological benefits that the TNCs are in a position to offer, but, for this to happen, several institutional arrangements for supervision at the global level over their policies and practices have to be in place. The global community has to create institutions that help support national policies anchored on the needs of the people within each country without hindering the process of growth. Global imbalances can be resolved and stability attained only through organised international coordination and consensually established international institutions (Nayyar, 2002). We cannot solve problems, as Albert Einstein once famously remarked, by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

    Most in the liberal world are immensely relieved that the communist interlude is behind them, but they or the rest of the global community are not at all sure that we have moved into a safer or more hopeful or more livable world. What we have learnt from our historical survey is that any large system that is built around a hegemonic power may suddenly collapse like a sand pile. What happens within a sand pile, the shifting and sliding of the grains, is as critically important as what is visible from the outside. Scientists say that the sand pile is a system that could break down not only under the force of a mighty blow but also at the drop of a pin. This is the spectre that is now haunting the whole world.


    1. Huntington, 1993, as quoted in Noam Chomsky (2003).


    • Agora: A central feature of the polis. Originally a market place, the agora also served as the chief social and political meeting place. Along with the acropolis (the upper fortified part of a city), the agora housed the most important buildings of the city-state.
    • Archon: The chief magistrate in many Greek cities. In Athens there was a council of archons which was a form of executive government.
    • Asiento: A contract, especially contacts of financiers with the crown, or contract to supply slaves.
    • Augustus: A title meaning ‘divinely ordained’ conferred by the Roman Senate on the first Roman emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Augustus), in 27 bc and thereafter assumed by all succeeding emperors.
    • Augsburg, Peace of: (25 September 1553). The treaty that ended the German religious wars of the Reformation period. It marks the defeat of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V politically and religiously—failures which were repeated in the Thirty Years' War of 1618–1648 and in the Treaties of Westphalia (1648)—and thus represents an important stage in the evolution of Germany into a collection of petty states instead of a united absolute monarchy.
    • Auto de fe: Act of the Faith; burning or other public condemnation of crypto-Jews, heretics, etc.; public ceremony held by the Spanish Inquisition.
    • Bakufu: Headquarters of the shogun (see also the note 3 in Chapter 7). Baku-han: A modern term referring to the Tokugawa system of government in which the shogunate (bakufu) exercised authority over several daimyo (han).
    • Boule: Council. Boule usually refers to the Council of Five Hundred. The Council consisted of 50 citizens from each of the 10 phylai (see Demos), selected by lot for one year from candidates nominated for the 139 demes. The Boule was crucial for the working of the Athenian democracy.
    • Basileus: The king archon designating the highest state official, after whom the year was named. He was responsible for organising state festivals and presided over the People's Court in cases concerning family law and inheritances.
    • Bull: A letter issued by the Pope that contains an order and/or statement of religious doctrine.
    • Bushi: The military aristocracy in Japan; the samurai.
    • Caliph: The supreme leader of the Islamic world after Muhammad's death in ad 632, the successor to Muhammad. Secular and religious authority was combined in the office of the caliph, who claimed to be appointed by God.
    • Carreira da India: Round voyage between Lisbon and Goa.
    • Casa da India: India House at Lisbon.
    • Chonin: Non-samurai urban dwellers, merchants and artisans.
    • Consul: After the fall of the monarchy, the Republican Romans established a joint annual magistracy shared by two elected senators (originally called praetors) to act as the head of the executive and to lead the armies in war. Their power was that of the king, limited by their annual term and duality.
    • Cortes: Portuguese Parliament or assembly of three estates of nobility, clergy and people.
    • Conquistador: Military adventurers, mostly commoners, who led the Spanish exploration of the New World during the 16th century. Fierce and often ruthless figures, they were motivated both by missionary zeal and greed for gold and other riches. Description applied to the Spanish military pioneers in America.
    • Consulado: The Consulado in Seville and other Spanish cities was the corporation of merchants trading there.
    • Creole: New World settler of white, Spanish descent.
    • Cruzado: Portuguese coin, originally of gold, whose value was fixed at 400 reis (A small Portuguese copper coin of low value) in 1517. During the 17th century, the cruzado was roughly valued at four English shillings.
    • Demos: People. The word means (a) the entire Athenian people (= the Athenian state), (b) the common people (= the poor), (c) the People's Assembly (= Ekklesia), (d) rule of the people (= democratia), (e) municipality, that is, one of the 139 demos created by Cleisthenes in 507 bc and collected into 30 trittyes, which were again collected into 10 phylal.
    • Denarius: A Roman monetary unit represented by a silver coin, the standard of the Roman monetary system. During the imperial period, these coins were progressively devalued (see also Sesterces and the note in Chapter 2).
    • Ducat: First minted in 1284 by the city of Venice. A gold coin with the portrait of the ruler (for example, the Duke, the Dodge) on it. Later, simply, a monetary unit of account.
    • Equestrian: The Equestrian order, the knights, second to the senatorial order, originally consisted of the income bracket sufficient to enable them to keep and equip a horse to enable them to serve in the cavalry. The order in the late Republican and imperial times included some very rich men who ran the commercial life of Rome. The qualification of membership in the late Republic was 400,000.
    • Estado da India: ‘State of India’ Portuguese India, often loosely applied to all the Portuguese fortresses and settlements between the Cape of Good Hope and Japan.
    • Fidalgo: Nobleman, gentleman.
    • Florin: First minted in 1252 by the city of Florence, later any of the several gold coins patterned after the Florentine florin (for example, the Dutch florin).
    • Fluyt (flyboat): In early modern Europe, a small, rapid and highly efficient vessel designed for inexpensive, utilitarian hauling; a Dutch innovation.
    • Galleon: Large Spanish oceangoing warship.
    • Galley: Warships driven by oars in battle and equipped with sails for cruising. The galley was the standard European battle vessel until the late 16th century, when the sail-powered, more heavily armed galleon began to replace it. Open-ended vessel, used in coastal traffic and in the Mediterranean.
    • Geniza: See note 12 in Chapter 5.
    • Hadith: Traditions recounting the words and deeds of Muhammad; the source of Muslim scriptures.
    • Han: A daimyo domain.
    • Intendant: In 17th- and 18th-century France, the absolute monarchy's key regional administrator. An intendant of justice, finance and police presided over each local government district and army intendants were civilian supervisors of the armies. Under Louis XIII and his Minister Cardinal Richelieu, intendants ruthlessly imposed justice and supervised tax collection. Overthrown by the rebellions known as Fronde (1648–1653), they gradually reemerged under Louis XIV as information gatherers and then as superb local administrators.
    • Peso: Unit of value in which Spanish-American treasure was expressed; there were also silver and gold coins bearing the name peso.
    • Escudo: Castilian coin.
    • Helot: In ancient Sparta, serfs who were forced to perform agricultural labour; originally the Messenians, a group conquered by the Spartans and reduced to near slave status.
    • Hoi Polloi: The many or the majority. A term used synonymously with Demos.
    • Hoplite: A heavily armoured foot soldier of ancient Greece, who fought in close formation, usually in ranks of eight men, each carrying a heavy bronze shield (a ‘hoplon’), a short iron sword and a long spear.
    • Huguenots: The name originated between 1510 and 1535 at Geneva, where those in favour of an alliance with the Swiss canton, Frieburg, were called Eidnots, literally ‘partakers of an oath’. They joined with the Bernese who had declared for the Reformed religion. The name came to be attached to French Protestants.
    • Latifundia: In Latin, literally, broad fields, in Roman times, a great landed estate, usually worked on by slave labour.
    • Liturgy: Public service for the state. Some state expenditures were met not from state revenues but by requiring a rich person as a civic duty to defray the expenses in question for one year.
    • Lombards (Langobardi): The last of the German invaders, entering northern Italy in the 6th century.
    • Madrasa: Islamic school, established after the 10th century.
    • Magyar: Dominant ethnic group of disputed origins in Hungary.
    • Manumission: The formal act of emancipating a slave, sometimes by written agreement or payment of the slave to the master.
    • Metic: In ancient Greece a merchant, usually a foreigner, who was a member of a class of resident non-citizens in the polis.
    • Mulatto: In areas that were former colonies of Spain, Portugal, France and in the United States, a term for a person of mixed Negro and European parentage.
    • Mycenae: An ancient Greek city on the Pelopponesian Peninsula, which rose to military power around 1500 bc.
    • Mycenaean: Civilisation, influenced by Minoan Crete and the ancient cities on the Eastern Mediterranean, flourished politically and culturally until about 1300 bc.
    • Optimates: In the contentious politics of Late Republican Rome, the diehard defenders of patrician privilege; literally the best; opposing the Optimates were the Populates or the People's party.
    • Patrician: In medieval and early modern cities, a hereditary elite of bourgeois office holders, rentiers, and high-status merchants, to be distinguished from the ordinary guild merchants.
    • Patriciate: The hereditary aristocratic class of ancient Rome.
    • Phalanx: In ancient Greece, a military formation in which heavily armed infantrymen line up close together in deep ranks, defended by a wall of shields.
    • Polis(pluralpoleis): (a) city, (b) city-state. The typical polis had a territory smaller than 30 sq km and a citizen population of less than 1000 adult males. In addition to the citizens (politai), a polis was populated by free foreigners (xenoi, in some poleis called metics). Foreigners and slaves lived in polis, but were not members of it. The polis usually consisted of a city and its hinterland. The city was the political, religious, economic and military centre, even if most of the citizens lived on the land, outside the city wall.
    • Principate: The system of government established by Augustus with the Roman emperor (Princeps) as its head. Other terms used to denote the imperial position were Imperator, Augustus and Caesar.
    • Quraysh: The Bano Quraysh, the dominant tribe in Mecca.
    • samurai: In medieval and early modern Japan, a class of warriors (from the Japanese saburu, meaning ‘service’). The samurai were originally rural landowners, generally illiterate, who served as military retainers. Later they emerged as military aristocrats and then as military rulers.
    • Saracen: A term that Greek-speaking Byzantine chroniclers and other European peoples used for Muslim Arabs.
    • Satrap: The governor of a province (satrapy) of the ancient Persian Empire.
    • Sesterces: The main unit of coinage under the principate in Rome: originally a quarter of a silver denarius. It was devalued by Nero to a ratio of 5:32 (see also the note in Chapter 2).
    • Sharia: Islamic system of law based on the Qur'an.
    • Shiatu Ali: ‘The party of Ali’—Shi'ites of the minority Muslim sect who maintain that the leadership of the community resides solely with descendants of Muhammad through Alui and Fatima.
    • Sophists: A group of ancient Greek teachers of rhetoric, philosophy and the art of living, 5th-4th centuries bc, known for their adroit, subtle and specious reasoning: Sophistry is now applied to any form of devious but convincing argument.
    • Shogun: From the 12th to the 19th century, the chief military figure of Japan.
    • Shugo: Military governor appointed under the Kamakura and Ashikaga shogunates.
    • Sunni: Majority Muslim sect adhering to the belief that leadership of the community belongs to the most qualified person, regardless of descent from the Prophet.
    • Sura: Chapter of the Qur'an.
    • Trieres: Galley with three banks of oars, one above the other. It was the most common types of warship in the 5th and 4th centuries bc and had a crew of 200 men, of whom 170 were rowers.
    • Ulama: Muslim religious scholar.
    • Okios: The Greeks used this to describe the household: the house and all those who lived within, the husband, wife and family including the slaves.
    • Okiomania: The Greeks used the word to describe the management of a household and its possessions; this is the source of the English word economy.
    • Za: Guild in Japan.
    • Zeugites: Citizens in ancient Greece who produced between 200 and 300 measures of corn, wine and olives a year and thus belonged to the third Solonian property class.
    • Templars: A western Christian military order in the Middle Ages.
    • Thete(pluralthetes): Properly, a day labourer, and then a citizen who produced less than 200 measures of corn and belonged to the fourth Solonian property class.
    • Tithe (archaic): Tenth part, tax payable to church.

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    About the Author

    D N Ghosh has traversed the worlds of government, the public and private sectors and academia. He has been Secretary to the Government of India, Chairman of India's largest bank, State Bank of India and Chairman of several leading companies in the private sector and Professor of Development Finance in the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. The author of two acclaimed books, Banking Policy in India: An Evaluation and Governance and Accountability, he is at present Chairman of ICRA, a leading credit rating agency of India, the Managing Trustee of Sameeksha Trust that runs the prestigious Economic and Political Weekly and is associated with several companies and organisations as Chairman or Director. His main areas of interest are financial and banking history.

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