By Chris Chipello
Karl Moore is well-known as a commentator on business news. What’s less well known is that he has co-authored three books on the globalization of business … under the Roman Empire.
Moore’s third tome on this topic is due out in February. He previewed the work last week to fellow members of the Desautels Faculty of Management.
Moore got started in this line of inquiry during a stint at Oxford University in the late 1990s. While reading an opus by John H. Dunning on multinational enterprises, he took a cue from a passage noting that while “embryonic” multinational enterprises could probably be found in the colonizing activities of the Phoenicians and the Romans, “this sort of history…remains to be written.”
There was, in other words, a gap in the academic literature. So Moore called his old university roommate from Toronto, historian David Lewis. The two agreed to combine their areas of expertise.
While it’s no secret that long-distance commerce existed in ancient civilizations, Moore and Lewis take the notion a step further by arguing that some of these arrangements amounted to the creation of “proto-multinationals.”
In their new book, The Origins of Globalization, they describe the period of international commerce spearheaded by the Roman imperial military, from 27 BC to around 200 AD, as Globalization 0.5 – a reference to the three stages of globalization described by popular author Thomas Friedman. (Friedman’s Globalization 1.0 starts in the 1400s, with European explorers globalizing their countries, and lasts until roughly World War I.)
As Roman legions extended the Empire through Europe and North Africa the market for Roman industry, trade and investment gave rise to a new business class. Many knights, their families and partners became managers of large “companies.” Those enterprises’ suppliers – including miners, smiths and shipmakers – were hired and fired on a contractual basis, making them a kind of part-time workforce. Hierarchical organization, foreign employees, value-adding activities in multiple regions, and common-stock ownership, were present in these ancient firms, Moore and Lewis contend. Eventually, Roman firms opened offices in Indian ports, creating what were Europe’s first East India companies. Spices, silks and jewels from the East flooded into the Empire.
Even the anti-globalization movement had precursors during the Roman Empire, Moore notes. The author Pliny the Elder complained that imports from Arabia, China, and India were costing Rome a huge annual trade deficit – the same regions now fingered by Washington for the big U.S. trade imbalance.