Merchants are heroes. The profit motive that they are all about is one of the most honesty-inducing forces in society. The profit motive, that is, the aim of increasing net value, is fantastic. If you’ve ever worked in the not-for-profit sector you’ll know that the lack of a bottom line to keep people focused on what really counts, results in rampant disguised-egoism and internal politicking. And in academia - oh dear - without the truth-teller that is the profit measure, intellectual ego runs amok and inertia rules the day.
I’m only just into the book, but as the title suggests, the merchants of Venice were a tremendous force for good. With the religious wars between the Islamic and Christian worlds, it was the merchants who overcame resistance to change and promoted education and innovation. We still benefit today.
For example, Europe was still using clunky Roman numerals. European traders visiting Constantinople (what is now Istanbul, Turkey) had been introduced to the much more effective numbering system invented by the Indians and Arabs. That is, the numbers 1-9 together with zero. What we now call the decimal system. We take the Arabic numbering system for granted now, but it was an incredible innovation which allowed for computation and recording with massive social benefits. It allowed for empirical science to emerge, calendars to be calculated, and new cathedral roofs to be built. The religious powers were resistant to it and in some cases outright banned the system. But the good old merchants thought, to heck with that, this is fantastic. We can keep our books of account with it and do banking and manage money. (Venice was the Wall Street of its day and the Ducat the money of trade, from Egypt to England.) The merchants began using it to keep their books and had tutors teach their sons the system in schools.
Luca Pacioli, the father of accounting, was one of those tutors.