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BUCCANEERS AND CORPORATIONS March 9, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Modern History.
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David Korten reviews the historical record and comes up with some interesting observations.

His article is republished at Common Dreams. He positions his comments with this positioning:

. . . I discovered that the term conservative harkens back to a day when conservatives were monarchists who considered democracy a threat to social order and the seas were ruled by buccaneers and privateers. That was a clarifying moment.

Buccaneer is a colorful name for the pirates of old who pursued personal fortune with rules of their own making. They were, in their time, an iconic expression of “free market” capitalism.

Privateers were buccaneers to whom a king granted legal immunity and safe harbor in return for a share of the booty. Their charge was to extract physical wealth from foreign lands and peoples by whatever means—including the execution of rulers and the slaughter and enslavement of native inhabitants.

Trading corporations, logically and inevitably led the way in setting up trading stations, establishing plantations on distant shores, and then establishing the imperial system. In the process they were taken over by nation states. He notes:

Corporations chartered by the British Crown established several of the earliest colonial settlements in what later became the United States and populated them with bonded laborers—many involuntarily transported from England—to work their properties. The importation of slaves from Africa followed.

The East India Company (chartered in 1600) was the primary instrument of Britain’s colonization of India, a country the company ruled until 1784 much as if it were a private estate. In the early 1800s, the East India Company established a thriving business exporting tea from China, paying for its purchases with illegal opium.

The Dutch East India Company (chartered in 1602) established its sovereignty over what is now Indonesia and reduced the local people to poverty by displacing them from their lands to grow spices for sale in Europe.

It is no exaggeration to characterize these forerunners of contemporary publicly traded limited liability corporations as, in effect, legally sanctioned and protected crime syndicates with private armies and navies backed by a mandate from their home governments to extort tribute, expropriate land and other wealth, monopolize markets, trade slaves, deal drugs, and profit from financial scams.

He does not say that banks were for the most part not nationalized. I keep on thinking of the military contractors, such as Blackwater. So I think maybe this history might also be traced back to Florence and the problem of national indebtedness. Colonization may have been a form of national independence – and I suppose the Reformation helped with respect to the Dutch and in turn the English.

ELSEWHERE:

On ABC Radio National Late Night Live, Phillip Adams interviews Peter FitzSimons on his book Batavia.

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