How did colonial markets boost Europe's economic and social developments and what conflicts and adversity did world trade entail?

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beardian | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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By colonial markets, I assume you are referring to the mercantile colonies set up in North, Central, and South America by the Europeans in the 16th-18th centuries.  

Europe's economy and society greatly benefited from the mercantile colonies in the Americas because of the wealth of raw materials and natural resources that the "new world" had to offer.  Mines, such as the silver mines in modern-day Bolivia's Potosí, provided the Spanish and Portuguese with an overwhelming amount of gold and silver.  This increased cash flow initially had a great impact on Spain's ability to wage religious wars and set up and maintain new mercantile colonies.  Socially, the privileged enjoyed greater wealth, which in turn led to education and greater acquisition of land.  The wealth also encouraged Spanish monarch Philip II to create an efficient bureaucracy which made Spain much more functional on a political level. The arts and religion flourished, culture grew and expanded throughout Europe, and Europe as a whole saw its influence over other civilizations expand.  

However, the wealth from the Atlantic Slave Trade and mercantile economies created conflict and adversity.  The most compelling tragedy was the increased number of Africans captured and sold into slavery.  One case that stands out is the state of Benin.  Prior to the increase in mercantile colonies and need for more labor, Benin was a creative and functioning state.  As population declined and warfare increased due to a need for more labor and the growth of the slave trade, Benin's culture was lost.  Benin's religion and art suffered, human sacrifice became a common practice, and by the time the British arrived in 1800, Benin as it existed before the pressures of the African slave trade was gone.  In addition to the growing slave trade, the rapid influx of gold and silver actually harmed the global economy and trade.  Even as far as China, who relied on silver for their coins (they had given up on paper money once silver became widely available), large civilizations suffered from a poor economy.  In order to cope with growing inflation, China ordered its workers to produce more silk, a one-time major money maker for China.  This had an adverse effect; the increase in supply lowered the demand. This economic impact reverberated globally.  Additionally, to cope with the growing demand for new world goods, labor systems were set in place that effectively destroyed native Central and South American populations.  The encomienda system, implemented in all Spanish colonies, forced tribute and labor from the native inhabitants.  In Peru, the mita system sent 1/7 men down into the mines for labor that often resulted in death.  The African slave trade grew even more to supplement the lacking labor supply.

While the growth in trade with colonial markets initially enabled Europe to lead the way in the global market, it resulted in widespread conflict in Africa, increased religious wars in Europe, economic adversity around the world, and a diminished native population in the Americas thanks to forced labor systems.

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