The unconventional model presented herein—Laws of Supplies and Demands— furnishes a view of the discipline of economics as both a social science and a physical science. This essay begins with Big History origins of Earthly mineral foundations upon which the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and today’s Computer Age were based, according to prominent geologist Walter Alvarez. Alvarez argues persuasively that geographical concentrations of specific productive inputs across Earth have been essential prerequisites for existence of all economic ages. This essay complements Alvarez’s focus upon economic inputs by extending consideration to geographical concentrations of economic outputs (goods). Mechanisms that explain concentrations of final goods in specific geographical locations across Earth comprise the core of the Laws of Supplies and Demands model. The flows-only orientation of conventional microeconomics (Laws of Supply and Demand) and conventional macroeconomics—both of which limit attention to time-dimensioned variables such as incomes and expenditures—is broadened to incorporate accumulations: wealth components (point-in-time-snapshots). By definition, services cannot be stocked, whereas goods accumulate as wealth components. The Laws of Supplies and Demands provide theoretical underpinnings for widespread interest today in empirical social science investigations of wealth accumulations and wealth distributions.
Bin Yang correctly states that cowrie shells (250 species) and cowrie monies (two species mostly) deserve far more attention in global histories than they have received. He provides the most comprehensive view of the global history of cowries and cowrie monies to date. Multiple shell monies proliferated worldwide, but they did not concentrate within China (except Yunnan) nor within Europe. Why did specific cowries accumulate only in certain specific geographical locations? Yang establishes a general answer: cultural preferences for holding specific objects, including specific monies, determined where the shells were concentrated. He offers global evidence that, I argue, contradicts mainstream economic theory, which is based upon conceptual aggregation of diverse monies into amorphous stocks of (national or regional) money (singular). Yang demonstrates repeatedly that distinct market locations and distinct market prices existed for specific cowrie and other shell monies (plural) throughout global history. His evidence starkly demonstrates inadequacies of mainstream monetary theory (although he does not say as much). The relentless evidence of the existence of monetary disaggregation, evidence highlighted throughout Yang’s volume, demonstrates an urgent need for alternative monetary theories that portray prices and stocks of individual monies in conformity with empirical evidence provided by archival historians.
The purpose of this essay is threefold. First, to highlight research of Seonmin KIM, whose 2006 Ph.D. dissertation elucidates complex relationships among Ming China, Choson Korea, Tokugawa Japan, and mountainous ginsengproducing “borderlands” between Korea and China; her story concludes with the remarkable rise of a borderlands power that overthrew Ming China, thereby establishing dominance that lasted into the 20th century – the Qing Dynasty. A second purpose is to showcase application of a non-standard-model – the Hydraulic Metaphor – that elucidates economic components of Professor KIM’s history via visual and intuitive mechanisms designed to be understandable for non-specialists. Last, an outline of East Asian history is placed within context of centuries of monetary evolution that eventually yielded the late-16th-century birth of globalization.