Have you checked out Mel Gibson’s new movie about the ancient New World civilizations yet? I haven’t, but only because I tend to shy away from lining the pockets of Nazis when I can. One of the reviews I read suggested that Gibson was essentially blaming the Mayans for allowing themselves to be the victims of a Catholic genocide. Maybe the reviewer just had an axe to grind. All’s I know is that Spain, hardly what most of us would consider one of the really important players in world geopolitical history, had a pretty nice run at the risk of those poor souls who were just minding their own business and conducting human sacrifices while the Catholic Church was engaged in a folly of their own choosing.
Following Columbus’ voyages to what would become known as the New World, Spain entered its golden age. The vast riches of the vast new land pumped tons of gold into the Spanish economy and revolutionized the economic system of the entire continent. From the dawn of the 15th century, Spain essentially began to embrace the mercantilist theory that their New World colonies existed for only one reason and that was to serve as a bottomless well of funding for Spain itself.
Had the enormous geographical areas that would come to be known as the Americas not been rich in gold and silver deposits all of world might possibly be significantly different, since Spanish colonization was dependent primarily upon the huge wealth those areas contained. Since so much gold and silver was available-the precious metals by themselves are estimated to have been responsible for a full quarter of the monarchy’s total wealth during this period-Spain saw little need for other indigenous native industries and actively discouraged its development.
By the late 1500s, following the union with Portugal, Spain introduced its mercantilist policies to Brazil by way of introducing administrative reform. In addition, judicial and military officers known as corregidores were put into place. The strict enforcement of Spanish mercantilist policies once again had the effect of restricting the growth and development of industries that could be viewed as competitive to continental interests. During the 17th century the introduction of slave labor from Africa allowed for the creation of new merchant industries involving cultivation of crops. The mercantile system received expanded from the mining of precious metals to include production and distribution of coffee, cotton, and sugar.
The Spanish engineered the use of mercantilism by engaging in very strict regulatory policies and by reducing bureaucratic entanglements. Rather than expanding the infrastructure to divide the system of production and distribution along various channels, Spain moved to simplify the process. For instance, the Casa de Contratacion of Castile conducted the business of transacting all trade with the Indies, including the licensing of both imports and exports.
The ultimate effect of Spanish mercantilist imports, when combined with the force emigration of Jewish and Muslim merchants and bankers who were experienced in dealing with business, resulted in an inability to compete with cheaper production costs elsewhere in Europe. The result was runaway inflation and the devastation of both agriculture and industry in Spain. The richest country in the world soon found its economy in utter ruin.