This was a letter through the comments section written by John Thompson to the Editor in relation to “Vantage Point with Mike Young.” These comments are now a regular series article called “To Your Freedom.”
By John Thompson
This letter to the editor sent in is a previous article printed by the USSA News and can be found at the following link: https://ussanews.com/2022/06/20/why-one-of-the-wealthiest-empires-in-history-disintegrated-in-17-years/
Vantage Point: The Good and The Bad
On June 17, 1631, the 38-year-old chief consort of Shah Jahan, head of the Mughal Empire, was giving birth to their 14th child in the central Indian city of Burhanpur.
It had been long and extremely difficult labor– more than 30 hours in total. But the consort persisted and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The consort herself, unfortunately, succumbed to uncontrollable postpartum bleeding, and she passed away that same day.
Her name was Mumtaz Mahal. And her husband the Emperor was so bereaved that, after a year-long period of mourning, he commissioned a palatial mausoleum to house her tomb.
We know this tomb today as the Taj Mahal. And Shah Jahan spared no expense on its grandeur. According to the scrupulously kept financial records of the time, the cost of the Taj Mahal totaled precisely 41,828,426.47 silver Rupees. Based on today’s gold and silver prices, that works out to be more than $3 billion in today’s money.
Now, I’m sure Shah Jahan loved his wife very much. But that’s a lot of money to spend on a tomb… especially when the money comes from the public treasury.
But this sort of profligate spending was pretty typical of the Mughal Emperors at the time.
The Mughal Empire had only been founded roughly 100 years before, in 1526. And it rose to prominence under the reign of Akbar the Great during the late 1500s.
Akbar tripled the size and wealth of the Mughal Empire until it included virtually all of India, Pakistan, and parts of Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Akbar also ensured that economic freedom reigned. He cut taxes. The coinage was stable. Infrastructure was highly advanced. People were free to engage in commerce and trade.
Akbar also held government bureaucracy to a minimum and even kept his personal household spending quite low.
He famously ruled with a staff of just four ministers, and he set an example of routinely hiring people based purely on their talent, irrespective of someone’s religion, nationality, or class.
As a result, the Mughal Empire became a financial powerhouse, responsible for roughly 22% of the global GDP. (This is approximately the same as the US is today.)
The empire quickly became known for its unimaginable wealth, and European travelers marveled at the Mughals’ high standard of living.
Naturally, the wealth didn’t last. The emperors who followed Akbar did not continue his policies of freedom, tolerance, and conservative spending.
Akbar’s son Jahangir was a cruel, drunken degenerate who reveled in flaying his political opponents; he also ballooned the expenses of his imperial court by establishing a harem of 6,000 women.
(The harem’s administrator was the emperor’s favorite wife– a woman he married after brutally murdering her first husband.)
Jahangir’s son, Shah Jehan, was even more intemperate. He came to power by slaughtering his brothers, and then quickly raised government spending to epic levels.
In addition to the Taj Mahal, Shah Jehan built dozens of other lavish palaces, and he spent indiscriminately on other personal luxuries like jewelry.
He raised taxes and poisoned the economy with armies of bureaucrats. Shah Jehan was also highly intolerant of other religions and ideologies, and he imposed a special tax on all individuals who did not convert to his Muslim faith.
Shah Jehan was violently overthrown by his son Aurangzeb, a fanatic who sought to eradicate every other faith except his own. He tore down monuments, smashed statues, and closed schools that did not conform to his ideology.
As Emperor, Aurangzeb raised taxes and accelerated the expansion of regulation and government bureaucracy. He also constantly provoked foreign enemies and sunk a great deal of the Empire’s sagging treasury into a never-ending state of costly warfare.
Ironically, though, due to his personal faith, Aurangzeb was a pacifist at home. He frequently refused to enforce the laws and punish crime. Eventually, Aurangzeb became legendary for his clemency and forgiveness, and criminals thrived under his reign.
Aurangzeb died in 1707. And just 17 years after his death, the Mughal Empire had disintegrated into fragments.
The Empire’s rise to wealth and prominence over just a few decades in the 1500s was astonishing. Its rapid decline was even more extraordinary. But it’s not hard to understand.
Between peak and decline, the Empire experienced terrible leadership. Weak and incompetent emperors spent lavishly, expanded the bureaucracy, raised taxes, increased regulation, and waged war. Some of those wars ended with humiliating defeats, resulting in a loss of national prestige.
They trampled on individual and economic liberty. They formalized extreme ideological intolerance and encouraged social divisions. They canceled, sometimes violently, anyone who didn’t espouse their beliefs.
They didn’t bother enforcing their own laws, and they let the lawless reign. They lost the ability to transfer power in an orderly manner between successive rulers.
They failed to protect their borders from foreign invaders– most notably the British East India Company. And they absolutely failed to recognize that rival powers around the world were rising and would take their place.
They foolishly and arrogantly assumed that their wealth and power would last forever. It didn’t. It never does.
This theme is as old as human civilization itself, and we can see many of the same extravagances and follies from the Mughal Empire in our world today.
This time is not different, and it’s why diversifying internationally makes so much sense… why having a Plan B makes so much sense.
To your freedom,
5 thoughts on “To Your Freedom: How the Richest Country in the World Fell in 17 Years”
John, just guessing, you do not live in Mesquite.
Armin; I am sorry I have not addressed your post earlier. I have been on a flight to Sri Lanka, I am now as of today in Kandy Sri Lanka with my wife who is Sri Lankan. I am American and live in Mesquite 6 months out of the year, as we love your city. Because my wife has a green card she can only stay out of the USA 6 months out of the year, and as you have read or seen Sri Lanka is a mess, so we have come here to help her family. I hope you have a great fourth of July, please read my new short post on the fourth of July.
To your freedom
I smell plagiarism. Whatever. Evidently having all the wealth in the hands of just a few people is ok in John’s world. Passing wealth through generations ensures that the lower classes, castes, will never have wealth. The Taj Mahal is beautiful but it was built on the backs of the poor. The other palaces in India were built the same way. Such a top heavy system is going to fail every single time. (See the French Revolution). Did you ever think that without the poor workers, there would be no wealthy people. India needed a person like Ghandi. Fortunately he did come and India is better off than it was in the time of the shah. We have too much wealth in the hands of too few. Workers need more power or our country will die too. John and his wealthy friends have destroyed labor unions which has eliminated the middle class. Trickle down has never worked. It didn’t in India and the country collapsed.
David and John, Thank you for your discussion and examples.
Unfortunately, much of what you state, including examples, is too complex to write in this venue. It would take books to give readers a real understanding. But who reads much more than what is on ADD/ADHD Screens.
BTW, the USA is not the richest country. Omit the top 100 or 1000 richest families from statistics, our wealth rating would be far down from the top of the “developed countries.”
Another VRT web page told me that I do not exist. So I am signing in here.