What does it mean by "no mere shuffling of commercial cards" in this context? Also would like to know what is a "commercial card" in a time like 1892 (Under a British command)?

"... as long as the peasantry in these lands are (as they are) practically starving, and the irrigation works practically neglected, the responsibility for such a state of affairs must lie with the rulers ; and naturally no mere shuffling of commercial cards, or encouragement of an export trade which brings fortunes into the hands of a few tea-planters and merchants, can be expected to make things better."

-From Adam's Peak to Elephanta (1892)-


2 Answers 2


"Shuffling the cards" here is a metaphor for redistributing the advantages held by various players in a game, and "commercial" indicates the particular "game" which is being played.

What the author is saying is that changing the structure or rules of commerce, of the export trade, merely redistributes the rewards among various members of the commercial class, the people involved in the export trade; it will do nothing to improve the condition for people outside that class, who are not participants in the commerce "game" and are not dealt any of the "cards".

  • But it's not "shuffling the cards". Which makes me wonder if "commercial cards" aren't real things. It's a bit early for Rolodexes, but card reorganizing would seem to fit the context as well. Either way, the result is the same - a redistribution which excludes the peasantry.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:43
  • @PhilSweet I agree with StoneyB, it reads like a metaphor to me. A bit like 'another throw of the commercial dice' but with the implication of changing the conditions of the game. To extend the metaphor shuffling the deck only changes conditions for the players, not those excluded from the casino altogether.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 7:41
  • @BoldBen The thing is, business cards as we know them today were only just becoming ubiquitous among merchants at this time. These sorts of cards were earlier used as visitation cards by high society, and there would have been a need to make the distinction. There were also postal cards at this time (for mass mailings), and some of those were used as business cards also. The earliest reference for business card I've found is 1896, just 4 years after the book, and refers to a repurposed postal card. It makes clear they are already widely used and the term would be instantly understood.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 13:58
  • @PhilSweet The earliest use of "commercial card" in Google Books, however, is 1974. And surely speaking of "shuffling" cards is going to be associated by the reader with playing cards? Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:34
  • As a metaphor, I read it as a shuffling of people, with cards, real ones, being the stand-in for people. "shuffling the cabinet" and "shuffling the administration" get plenty of hits. I think the "shuffling of people" is a separate usage and doesn't bring to mind playing cards any more than the shuffling of feet does. Interestingly, the ODO groups "shuffling papers" and "shuffling money between .." with shuffling people's positions, but lists "shuffling cards" separately.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 15:37

Commercial cards in this context likely refers to post cards, which were used to propagandize such subjects as World War I and women's suffrage (both for and against in the latter).

In the Woman Suffrage Memorabilia site, the term commercial cards is used to distinguish cards produced by commercial publishers from cards produced by the suffragists themselves.

In the paragraph in question, the author is observing that simply handing out commercial cards to 'spin' the situation would do nothing to actually improve things.

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