Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,
In the early summer of 1514, Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon returned home to the court of King Ferdinand as a hero.
De Leon was among the first of Spain’s conquistadors to discover gold– right here in Puerto Rico. And that was enough for him to be knighted and bestowed all sorts of royal honors.
By that time, Europe had been suffering a shortage of gold and silver for nearly a century; mines and mints had closed down all across the continent, triggering what economic historians call ‘The Great Bullion Famine’ in the mid 1400s.
So the supply of money, i.e. gold and silver, was essentially stagnant. Technically European money supply was falling, because most European kingdoms ran a trade deficit with Asia and the Middle East.
Yet at the same time, European economies were finally starting to grow again following the consequences of the Black Plague and the Hundred Years War.
English wool production, for example, nearly tripled between the mid 1400s and the early 1500s.
So with more goods and services being produced at a time that money supply was falling, prices declined. This essentially what deflation is.
Wages, rents, and food prices in Spain, for example, dropped 25% over a century, according to economic historian E.J. Hamilton.
Now that actually sounds pretty good. But to Europe’s rulers, this deflation was a total catastrophe. And it sparked a number of international expeditions to find more gold.
Ponce de Leon was just one of many conquistadors to discover rich mineral deposits in Latin America… and then enslave the local populations to mine them.
The end result was...