Each of the elements that characterise globalisation — global trade networks, shipping lines, integrated financial markets, flows of cultures and peoples — can be found in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. A global currency based around the Spanish ‘dollar’ predated the US dollar’s similar role by two centuries. The attributes of today’s world cities typified Mexico 400 years ago.

Globalisation itself, therefore, evidently predates everything that conventional (Anglo-American) wisdom holds necessary for it: the Enlightenment, steam, free trade, laissez-faire capitalism, liberal political systems and the more recent, Western-initiated multinational institutions as such more recent the World Bank and IMF. Whatever it is that sparks and sustains globalisation cannot be linked to this particular narrative, for the basic structures of globalisation existed at least two centuries before any of these developments took root.

This period was however characterised by both the lack of an institutional framework for globalization as well as the lack of a leading national player, resulting in an instability that resembles the one we may be entering. Trade, and globalisation, nevertheless proceeded.