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A Review of _Trade and Trust in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World_ by Xabier Lamikiz

The studies of trust in long-distance businesses and the trade diasporas explain the Spanish Imperial decline on the Atlantic.
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  Lamikiz, Xabier. Trade and Trust in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World: Spanish Merchantsand Their Overseas Networks . Boydell & Brewer Inc, 2010. 211 pages. Maps and illustrations.ISBN: 0861933060The Basques are not alone in claiming a special insight into World History, nor to claim to havebeen the first Europeans to have reached Canada. Yet, studying Bilbao’ s 18th-centuryparticipation in the Atlantic trade networks in comparison to those of Cádiz and Lima hasallowed Xabier Lamikiz to dismiss any existing trace of the Weberian Thesis, and other false,but obstinate claims about the Spanish spirit of enterprise. Now we have a clearer view of thelong mysterious Iberian imperial decline, which, in fact was not always a story about decline.Through a close, yet multi-angled examination of the involvement of bilbaínos, gaditanos, andlimeños in Spanish colonial trade Lamikiz provides us with fresh visions of the past. First, welearn that trust was the most important factor in determining the success of Spanish (and of any)long-distance trade. This supplements mainstream studies of economy (i.e., Avener Offer),which emphasize the supremacy of the supply and demand, the legal system, and the availabilityof credit. Second, we learn that at the end of the Hapsburg era the Spanish “ trade diasporas, ”  indispensable for building trust for long-distance trade, disappeared from all key commercialcenters in Europe. If the first premise is right, then the withdrawal of the Spanish commercialforeign communities from northern Europe was the most important cause for the Spanish empire’s economic decline. But then, when all indicators are that Spanish trade must plunge, we are given a third lesson. Wediscover that by the middle of the 18th Century foreign infiltration into the supposedly tightcolonial trade was receding. English, Dutch, and other non-Spanish investors had longmanipulated the Spanish colonial monopoly through masked indigenous frontmen. Their subtleyet extensive intervention reached deep into Spanish colonial businesses. This had been themain reason why the wealth derived from the Americas had mostly stayed in foreign hands, andhad done little to wean off the empire from its bullion. The foreigners’ reduced numbers after  1750 permitted formerly subdued Iberian commercial houses to expand. Indeed, Lamikizappears to imply that during the so-called Bourbon Reforms, the Spanish Empire was double-dipping: harvesting the fruits of an improved mercantilism while benefiting from a more openinternational trade.For far too long the Weberian Thesis has held a disproportionate weight in commentaries aboutthe commercial deterioration of the Spanish Empire. The traditional Protestant ethic’sexplanation, though often challenged and modified (i.e., the “feedback” variation), has been thatIberian Catholic merchantry was no match for the disciplined and thrifty nations followingCalvinism and its variants. They came down from the North to overpower, through treaties andthen cut-throat trade, the supposedly less industrious Iberians. Though never completelyconvincing, this argument sustained many intellectually fraudulent allegations of culturaldifferences between Nordic and Anglo types versus Mediterraneans and Latins on both sides of the Atlantic. The recurring debates over the Weberian Thesis also eclipsed the study of otherpotential causes for the Spanish downturn. It is at this point that Lamikiz arrives. And althoughhis book gives little explicit attention to Weber, his findings all but demolish whatever is left of that simplistic idea.    Lamikiz’s book joins recent studies of Atlantic History centered outside the English -speakingworld. The Atlantic paradigm allows him to show decisive events as multicausal andmultinational, in a sort of 3-D historical view. The strongest and most unique sections are thosedealing with personal and family connections pertaining to trade--an effort to demonstrate thesignificance of trust. The tables and the maps are helpful, and for dealing with economics, theprose is highly readable. Although focusing on Basque and European interests, it manages toavoid common Eurocentric pitfalls. Besides the archives of Sevilla, Cadiz, and Bilbao, Lamikizhas made good use of repositories and records in Lima, and the very curious stash of Spanishcolonial documents found in London that had been despoiled by the British Navy. However, onecannot but wonder what would have transpired had Lamikiz paid to colonial agency the same attention he paid to the Basques’s networks. In some ways, the study seems introductory for its breadth and ambition. Further investigations inspired by Lamikiz’s work could help us better understand other Iberian and colonial tradediasporas, and the historical ethnographies of diverse  paisanajes in commerce and politics in theAmerican colonies. Despite the hasty use of the rich vault of ideological tools in cultural studies,which led to several underdeveloped ideas, this book is a major contribution to not only AtlanticHistory, but to Colonial Latin American History. The language and length are appropriate foradvanced undergraduate and graduate courses.
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