Bottlenecks and East Indies Companies: Modeling the Geography of Agency in Mercantilist Enterprises

Publication Date: 
September 2015
Political Power and Social Theory, Volume 29, pp. 207 - 218
Chris Shughrue
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The great chartered companies that spearheaded early modern European empire combined economic accumulation and the projection of sovereign power. They operated through networks of geographically dispersed imperial agents, experiencing bottlenecks in the long-distance flow of goods and enforcement and significant lags in communication with, and among, their agents. We develop an agent-based model, comparing an entrepot and networked structure of metropole and outpost relations. The model enables us to highlight the associated outcomes of a range of dyadic and triadic colonial networks exemplified by the Dutch East Indies Company and English East India Company, respectively. It captures basic network structure and the impact of temporal lags bound up with the policing of agents and delivery of goods over great distances. We conclude, first, that overall profits are higher for the triadic form, but as the colonial entrepot becomes a bottleneck, it accrues a disproportionate share of those profits. Second, we reveal the potential impact of the bottleneck on the evolving triadic form. The closer the entrepot is to the metropole, the better the outposts perform; however, the entrepot itself fares much worse, ultimately depressing profits at the system level. Time lags are shown to pose significant challenges for both competitiveness and control; they are a seedbed of colonial autonomy.