Montesquieu

Although com­merce is sub­ject to great trans­for­ma­tions, it can hap­pen that cer­tain phy­si­cal cau­ses, and the qua­lity of the ter­rain or of the cli­mate, fix its nature fore­ver.

We trade today with the Indies only by means of the sil­ver we send there. The Romans1 took about fifty mil­lion ses­ter­tii there every year. That sil­ver, like ours today, was conver­ted into mer­chan­dise which they brought back to the west. All the peo­ples who have tra­ded in the Indies have always borne metals thence and retur­ned with mer­chan­dise.

It is nature her­self that pro­du­ces this effect. The Indians have their arts, which are adap­ted to their man­ner of living. Our luxury can­not be theirs, nor our needs their needs. Their cli­mate requi­res of them or allows them almost nothing that comes from us. They lar­gely go naked ; the clo­thing they have is sui­ta­ble as it is fur­ni­shed them by the coun­try ; and their reli­gion, which is indes­truc­ti­ble, makes repu­gnant to them the kind of things that are food to us. The only thing they need the­re­fore is our metals, which are signs of value, in exchange for which they give mer­chan­dise, which their fru­ga­lity and the nature of their coun­try pro­vi­des them in great abun­dance. The ancient wri­ters who have spo­ken to us of the Indies depict them as we see them today, so far as public order, man­ners, and ways are concer­ned.2 The Indies have been, and the Indies will be, what they are at pre­sent ; and in all times those who deal in the Indies will bear sil­ver thence and bring none back.

Pliny, book VI, ch. xxiii.

See Pliny, book VI, ch. xix, and Strabo, book XV.