"The magical circle of investment and conquest... begins with the discovery of the Americas. This is the engine of two wheels: the wheel of scientific discoveries and the wheel of capitalist economy. Credit, investment, profits. More credit, more investment, more profits." —Historian Yuval Noah Harari
How did capitalism develop? For centuries, the standard formulation - laid out by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and repeated uncritically ever since - has gone like this: humans used to trade and barter, but as society became increasingly complex, barter became harder to manage and money developed.
The trouble is that - like the story of Columbus discovering America - everything about this classical formulation is wrong.
This episode explores the origins of capitalism, arguing that it is inextricably linked to colonialism, the rise of science, and the slave trade. Capitalism preceded Smith by centuries - the plantations of the West Indies were purely capitalist enterprises, as were the privately-funded expeditions that colonized much of the world. Like today's startups, these ventures offered high risk but huge rewards to those that succeeded.
On a journey covering four continents and nearly a millennium, we discover the flourishing free market of 12th-century China, learn how the economics of indigenous societies differed vastly from their portrayal by Smith, and come to understand how the European "discovery" of America fuelled a scientific boom that was integral to colonization and economic exploitation - creating a global capitalist boom that was felt from the streets of China, to the slave castles of West Africa, the markets of Spain and the pastures of England.
Featuring historian and Smith biographer Nicholas Phillipson, economist Kari Polanyi Levitt, historian Yuval Noah Harari, and others. View the complete list of storytellers.