The First Globalization Episode: The Creation of the Mongol Empire, or the Economics of Chinggis Khan

The First Globalization Episode: The Creation of the Mongol Empire, or the Economics of Chinggis Khan

By Ronald Findlay and Mats Lundahl

Online Paper (2005)

Summary: Findlay and Lundahl explore how the nomadic nature of Mongolian society, which had resulted from low population and the harsh natural conditions of the steppes, lent itself to a unified expansion on a global scale under. Findlay applies an economic model which shows how Chinggis Khan’s conquests extended the area used for production and for tax revenue, and increased the population with each new territory so that an increased and effective army could be maintained. He broke down the traditional power structures where many tribal chiefs would compete and plunder decreasing productivity and revenue. He unified the tribal chiefs in 1206 not only through his own military might but also by providing incentives of wealth from the “lucrative wars . . that could only be won through a unified front under a supra-tribal leader.” By 1279 under the conquests of Kubilai Khan, it was “the largest continuous empire that the world has ever seen, up to the present day,” from Siberia to Poland, from Indochina to the southern border of Iraq.

Introduction: When communism fell in the Soviet Union in 1989 the Mongolian economy and society in general received a tremendous shock. All of a sudden Soviet foreign aid disappeared completely and foreign trade virtually collapsed. GDP fell with more than 20 percent in a mere four years, and in spite of a gradual improvement thereafter, the 1989 level has so far not been reached anew. Mongolia was thrown abruptly into a rapidly globalizing world without being prepared for it. The fall of communism, a system that had been in place for approximately 65 years, forced globalization on Mongolia in a dramatic way, with little to cushion its immediate impact. The country became, as it were, a ‘victim’ of globalization.

The fact that Mongolia was victimized by globalization stands out as a bitter irony of history once we begin to extend the perspective backwards in time. In the present Age of Information Technology, increased international trade and factor mobility it is easily forgotten that globalization is not a latter-day phenomenon. On the contrary, such a view implicitly views globalization not as a process but as a state: an impossible perspective, given the label. The only sensible way of approaching globalization is by taking the term literally, as the story of how the world became global, and then the roots have to be sought considerably further back in time. We will not attempt to provide a clear-cut answer to the question of when and how globalization ‘began’. That would be both out of place and futile. Even the most cursory inspection of the rapidly accumulating literature on this subject indicates that there appears to be about as many answers to the question as there are authors who have posed it.

A definite answer is hardly needed for our present purposes. It is more than sufficient to note that if we go eight centuries back what was up to that point the strongest wave of or effort at globalization hitherto in history emanated from the Mongols. They were the main agents of the process, i.e. they ‘pushed’ globalization, as it were. Needless to say, from the Mongol point of view, the early globalization episode had virtually nothing in common with the present one. On the contrary, the contrast between the two could not be brighter. They should be viewed as opposite endpoints on a scale. At one extreme we find the Mongols in the thirteenth century, as the active pushers of the process, in virtually complete control of it, and with more or less total power to decide the distribution of the benefits and costs that arose in course of the episode. At the other end of the scale we find them as passive recipients, or even victims, as suggested above, with no power whatsoever to influence the course of events and their effects.

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