Saturday, December 25, 2021

"Holiday Supply Chain Issues of Ancient Rome"

From JSTOR Daily:

Hey, at least we’re [you're] not trying to track down frankincense and myrrh.

If you haven’t yet finished your holiday shopping, chances are you are aware, more so than usual, of issues with the global supply chain. Whether it’s shipping delays, container shortages, or workforce disruption, we have all become armchair experts in the logistics of delivery.

The myths around Christmas have always been lessons in supply chain management. The three wise men (or Magi) bring to the manger gold, frankincense, and myrrh: tokens of kingship, divinity, and humanity, and of wealth gathered from the ends of the earth. Frankincense, an expensive fragrance, came from India and Arabia; myrrh, an embalming oil, came from bushes in Ethiopia and Arabia. While Christmas shopping as we know it began in the early nineteenth century, gift-giving has long been part of the holiday imaginary, and Santa Claus’ sleigh ride across the globe now offers an optimistic vision of a world unified by the economies of transportation—a vision that the COVID-19 pandemic is both exposing and unraveling.

Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior, the biblical Magi, bring goods symbolic of the exotic lands they come from, and they carry their precious cargo with them, like diplomats presenting gifts at a state visit. On the other end of the mythical spectrum, Santa Claus relies on local production, low rent, and cheap labor, and a healthy dose of magic, to deliver gifts to the good boys and girls of the world.

Neither story hints at the complexities of consumer purchasing decisions, procurement of raw materials, production, shipping, or distribution. In their simplicity, these stories not only help us celebrate the holidays, but also let us remain blissfully ignorant about the human cost, technological effort, and environmental harm done by the production and distribution of our gaily wrapped presents. Even more insidiously, they allow us to imagine the West as the focal point of a network of economic exchange, serviced by exotic or magical beings who are happily laboring to provide us with luxuries.

In his article “Provincializing Rome: The Indian Ocean Trade Network and Roman Imperialism,” the historian Matthew Fitzpatrick takes the Romans to task for their economic duplicity. Though the Roman empire often directed its expansion to maximize economic opportunity and consolidate control, aristocratic Romans regularly railed against the vice of luxury, and cast their motivations in terms of glory and treaty obligations instead of profit.

But however economically minded the Roman empire was, Fitzpatrick argues that it was unable to dictate the terms of global trade, racking up a trade deficit that it sustained through the enormous spoils of conquest. The real economic hotspot was instead to the east, specifically the Indian subcontinent, which connected the western zones of the Mediterranean to the markets of far east Asia. Although classicists since at least Polybius (a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period) like to imagine the Roman empire as the center of the world, accounts of ancient trade networks tell a different story.....


Coming up: Trading the NFT/myrrh ratio using Fibonacci retracements.