At Home on the World Markets

At Home on the World Markets: Dutch International Trading Companies from the 16th Century Until the Present

Joost Jonker
Keetie Sluyterman
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 429
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  • Book Info
    At Home on the World Markets
    Book Description:

    The Dutch economy has relied on trade for centuries. During the seventeenth century the Netherlands experienced a Golden Age built largely on commercial enterprise, and trade continues to be the golden link in the supply chain from producers to consumers. Yet we know very little about the business of trade and the people involved in it. What was the nature of their work, and how did it evolve through the ages?

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6938-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-7)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 9-13)

    The Dutch termhandelshuisor merchant house inspires associations with enterprising traders, warehouses along the Amsterdam canals, and the sturdy sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company or voc. During the 17th century, these firms laid the foundations for the economic prosperity and flourishing culture of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. Traders and their international operations were a driving force in the economy of this Golden Age, innovative forces contributing to a positive self-image of the Netherlands in its formative stage. As they built Amsterdam into the hub of this prospering trade, they were literally ‘at home...

  4. CHAPTER I The unfolding of a commercial world empire, 1550-1650
    (pp. 14-71)

    Dutch trade has its roots in ages long gone by. Merchant houses only appeared towards 5, as the Dutch Republic entered a Golden Age of economic world dominance. They played a key role in developing the country’s commercial power.

    A LONG DAWN – Merchant houses with large-scale international operations first appeared in Renaissance Italy. As early as the thirteenth century, large and enduring trading firms arose, run by several partners and branching out into subsidiaries in Italian cities and across Europe. During the Quattrocento, merchant houses such as Bardi, Peruzzi and Datini became notable specialists in trade and finance. They...

  5. CHAPTER II Losing the lead, 1650-1750
    (pp. 72-115)

    During the second quarter of the 17th century the Republic’s trade position came under heavy fire. Neighbouring countries took political and military action against the entrepot market’s supremacy. The Republic became embroiled in a long series of wars, and finally had to accept that its powers were insufficient to sustain the economic expansion. Other countries drew level with the seven provinces, some even overtook them. However, this did not mean an end to growth. The merchant houses managed to adapt their services admirably to the new situation, and succeeded in keeping the volume of the Republic’s foreign trade at very...

  6. CHAPTER III Through a dark valley, 1750-1850
    (pp. 116-173)

    During the second half of the 18th century the Dutch trading houses could still muster sufficient capital power to keep up with the competition. Meanwhile, the country finally lost its commercial primacy to Britain. Wars and other coincidences then shook the foundations of the commercial services sector, once so successful. During the turbulent transition between the 18th and 19th centuries, the merchant houses managed to keep a considerable trade volume going, considering the circumstances. Soon after the establishment of the new Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1813, however, it became clear that the tables had turned, once and for all....

  7. CHAPTER IV A revolution in industry, traffic, and trade, 1850-1914
    (pp. 174-217)

    Around 1850 international trade suddenly accelerated. The industrial revolution spread from one country to another, and new, faster means of transport and of communications became available. Protectionism, until then a pervasive influence, proved to be no longer viable as an economic policy, and free trade began to break down the barriers erected around countries. These developments generated a powerful expansion of trade, which went hand in hand with deep structural changes. The commodity trade specialised, and new intermediaries appeared who handled industrial products. Meanwhile, the surviving merchant houses managed to stay in business by specialising in colonial trade.


  8. CHAPTER V On the defensive, 1914-1940
    (pp. 218-251)

    During the years from 1914 to 1940, traders were forced into the defensive. The First World War imposed restrictions on trade, challenging merchants to find new ways. The same restrictions provided manufacturing industry with an incentive to assume functions until then belonging to trade, which threatened to eliminate wholesalers. Finally, traders had to find a solution to the economic crisis during the early 1920s, and to the long depression of the 1930s.

    AN ERA OF CONFLICT AND PROTECTIONISM – In August 1914, after months of diplomatic tension, war broke out in Europe, abruptly cutting international economic ties, which had become ever...

  9. CHAPTER VI Trade in Times of War and Decolonisation, 1940-1960
    (pp. 252-289)

    Just as the First World War had temporarily suspended the growth of international economic linkages, the Second World War heralded a break with the past in starting the process of decolonisation. The overseas colonial empires disintegrated, forcing the colonial traders to grope their way through radically altered political circumstances. The merchant houses had experienced increasing political interference with their business as early as the 1930s. During the war government pressure intensified still further, and it remained a dominant fact of life for a long time after the war. Finding themselves in a world of military violence, political pressure, and uncertain...

  10. CHAPTER VII Trade and industry, an awkward fit, 1960-1983
    (pp. 290-325)

    During the 1960s the merchant houses began to concentrate their activities in politically stable regions. Here companies with a balanced business strategy and with sufficient energy could pick up on welcome opportunities, all the more so because these islands of political calm also enjoyed remarkable economic growth. This rising wealth offered scope for an expanding trade in consumer products. Some traders considered integration with manufacturing industry an attractive way of reducing their dependence on suppliers, and thus of bolstering revenues in the long term. However, this was to prove a hazardous course.


  11. CHAPTER VIII Groping for a core business, 1983-2000
    (pp. 326-371)

    Developments in the 1970s demonstrated that integration with industry was not the best option for the international trading companies to shore up their position. This inspired a search for alternative solutions. The economic crisis of the early 1980s, and the spectacular failures of some conglomerates, reinforced existing doubts about the viability of diversification. A new business philosophy spread, summarised as ‘back to the core business’. What, then, was the core business of the international trading companies? And what kind of operations should they embark on to realise the full potential of their core business? How much room did trading intermediaries...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 372-386)

    This book has traced the development of Dutch merchant houses over a span of more than four centuries, from the dawn of the Golden Age up to the threats and opportunities created by modern information technology. In the final analysis, how vulnerable were the traders, or how strong? As intermediaries, were they puppets on the strings of market parties, or did they control markets as spiders from their web? Were they parasites, redundant links in the chain, or did they really perform an essential economic function? We have analysed how the position of trading houses in the supply chain changed...

  13. List of persons interviewed
    (pp. 387-388)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 389-406)
  15. Literature
    (pp. 407-418)
  16. Index
    (pp. 419-428)
  17. Picture credits
    (pp. 429-429)