New Internationalist

The Corporation that Changed the World

May 2007

This book tells the compelling and appalling story of the East India Company.

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Globalization began in 1600 with a tiny trading company dealing in Asian spices. This book tells the compelling and appalling story of what has been called ‘the mother and father of all companies’ – the East India Company.

Although I am Indian, have studied the colonial period and the fight for independence, no history lesson ever presented the extent of the economic devastation wrought by the East India Company on my country.

With precision and passion Robins shows how in 1600 the Indian economy was robust – healthier than the British economy, in fact – despite the efforts of corrupt, decadent nawabs. Then came the East India Company, a small-time trading outfit. Through a combination of greed, violence and corruption it acquired mafia-like power, enabling it to run the British Empire in India. The company crushed all obstacles in its way, be they starving peasants and poor weavers in India, or small traders and peasant farmers in Britain. The company’s disregard for the fate of the poor, its use of war, famine, poverty and speculation to boost company profits, provided a model for the modern transnational corporation.

Robins grips the reader with tales of intrigue and infighting. He strips bare the romanticized notion of the Raj having its share of virtues and exposes the systematic destruction of the Indian economy which led to the impoverishment of a subcontinent. The book is a brilliant, important contribution to an understanding of development and poverty.

Mari Marcel Thekaekara

This column was published in the May 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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