Thoughts on economics and liberty

Hindu Capitalism #8: The richest businessman of the world, Virji Vora

As part of my ongoing research on Indian (Hindu) capitalism, I came across the case of Virji Vora, the world's richest businessman in the seventeenth century. His role as financier between 1617 and 1670 of the East India Company was crucial to its future success. Business is, in the end, all about credit, and he was a great creditor. He kept the wheels of trade going in India and the world.

There is a comprehensive Wikipedia page on this businessman. Extracts:

The East India Company Factory Records records describe him as the richest merchant in the world at the time.[1][2] According to the English records, his personal worth is estimated to be worth 8 million rupees, a substantial amount of money in those days.[3]

The English often complained about the high interest rates charged by Virji Vora (1-1.5% per month). One English record states that "the town (Surat) is very empty of moneys; Virji Vora is the only master of it"[4] and ""none but Virgee Vorah hath moneye to lend or will lend."[9] Some of his credits to the English include:[4][10]
  • 1619: A record dated 25 August 1619, states that Virji lent 25,000 mahmudis to the English.
  • 1630: Lent Rs. 50,000 to the English at Agra
  • 1635: Lent Rs. 20,000 to the English
  • 1636: Lent Rs. 30,000 to the English
  • 1636: Lent Rs. 2 lakhs to the English
  • 1642: A letter dated 27 January 1642 mentions him as the "greatest creditor" of the East India Company, and mentions that he offered a loan of Rs. 100,000 in "necessitous and calamitous times"
  • 1647: Financed the East India Company's voyage to Pegu, Burma by providing 10,000 pagodas (about 6000 £), at an interest of 1.17% per month, in Golconda
  • 1650: Offered Rs. 100,000 to Merry, the President at English Factory at Surat
  • 1669: The English borrowed Rs. 400,000 from a group of creditors, of which Virji was an important member
Most of the capital lent to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in India also came from Virji Vora and his close associate Shantidas Jhaveri.[11] Virji also lent money to individual Englishmen to finance their own private trade, a practice denounced by the Company's London office.[4]
The Dutch and the English often used his facilities for transmitting large amounts of money from Surat to Agra through hundis (similar to demand drafts or traveler's cheques).
I'm not sure that Western historians are aware that British commercial success (and possibly the industrial revolution?) would have been impossible without Hindu capitalism – the wealth of thousands of years of trade that was centered in India.
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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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