Building an empire 101

In the past, there have been many world empires, with different models of success.

There is a secret recipe to growing the influence and strength of a country: trade.

The Roman Empire expanded quickly through its roads and taking over the areas next to it – and building good roads between the areas to help transport their military and trade . The British empire had a slightly different attitude. They didn’t necessarily want to just control areas next to them (apart from arguably the early days of England v Scotland, Wales and Ireland). They took to the seas and controlled cities and countries for one major reason: trade. They didn’t mind the local culture, religion or attitudes – they left the local population mostly to their own devices; apart from some key aspects that stayed well controlled by the British: property rights and trade (internal and, most importantly, externally). 

The French, similar but with a slightly different approach, would also control cities and countries around the world, but some of these countries they would see as an extension of themselves – think Algeria, which the French considered as an extension of France. The French would advocate and encourage adoption of the colonised country of their cultural norms and traditions… such as when Napoleon invaded Egypt and was appalled at some of the cultural aspects of the country – and tried to change them. It didn’t last, as the French left after approximately 3 years.

There were other empires, which weren’t as successful. There was the Spanish Empire, which from a simplistic view, had a strategy of ‘resource grab’; invade a country and take all the interesting resources from the country. When they finish; leave. Think all the gold they brought back from Southern America – and which later only brought about economic ruin to Spain. Yes too much Gold can be bad too.

The Ottoman Empire was a sideways growing empire, very much like the Roman Empire but only mostly from east to west. As they took over a new country, more money would come into the central Istanbul coffers. Thus there was great incentive to continue growing. Trade was mostly internal between subjects of the empire and the more areas of land they invaded, the richer the empire got. Until one day that growth stalled. The Sultans would continue lavishly spending, as they were used to, but without the previous almost constant source of revenue from empire expansion. Furthermore, the Ottoman armies, previously always busy invading new towns, cities and areas became bored and started looking internally which caused even more tensions within the Empire.

The Ottoman empire would continue spending until it couldn’t afford to anymore. By this time there were French and British influence on the Ottoman empire, and they provided the Sultans loans. Plenty of loans. The Sultans racked up huge debts and large debt repayments, which they couldn’t pay. So they took more loans to pay the loans they already had. While still continuing to spend lavishly.

It was always doomed to be a failure as the world had changed and the Ottoman Empire didn’t adapt it’s ‘business model’ from sideways expansion to for example the new formats of empire building championed by the French and British. Expand not just for land, but for trade.

A few countries expanded just for land, but they don’t always last for long. Think the Mongol empire, lasted approximately 90 years. Or German Nazi expansion, 12 years. There was no focus on trade, just expansion and power. The Roman empire and Ottoman empires expanded while encouraging the new civilians to trade with each other and is a major reason for their prolonged success.

A county’s expansion in the modern age is not necessarily about land acquisition anymore, it is about trade expansion. The USA is the best example. They could probably invade completely, or even destroy completely, a small nation within half an hour due to the firepower they have. When the Americans invaded Iraq it was not about land acquisition or necessarily complete control; but to ensure trade with that country was still possible. America does not necessarily see of necessity the need to invade countries (even though they have), but they do require that their services and manufacturing are provided to the world – and the world trades with America. They focus internally on having an economy and legislation that encourages new enterprises, risk taking, innovation and international trade. The more international trade, the more jobs available and tax revenues.

The world has changed, it isn’t about land; its about trade and better economies.

Stronger economies do a few things to a country:

  1. New job creation
  2. Less reliance on government/public sector to provide basic necessities 
  3. New jobs, means more tax revenue
  4. New businesses equals more tax revenue
  5. New innovative businesses create new innovative services, which create even further value added jobs
  6. The extra revenues in to the economy means more more money is spent on defence/army spending, meaning even a small country can be militarily strong – and not just by army size, but military technology capabilities
  7. The extra tax revenues are then used for those most in need, for the homeless, widows, orphans and people of need.

Win win.

Developing countries could focus on many things. They can focus on politics (sometimes of necessity), they can focus on doing good for the people, they can try to help the poor, they could advocate certain cultures and religions. But one thing always prevails: economy. A better economy brings more revenue into a country which it can then use for its cultural advocacy, new political institutions, or helping the poor. Without the constant, growing source of revenues, these activities would never last long. Please refer to past empires.

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