There are many sub-questions one can ask—e. Is it England? England and parts of the Continent? How does America fit in? When exactly did this takeoff begin? Are other countries now catching up, or even passing, the West?
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There are many sub-questions one can ask—e. Is it England? England and parts of the Continent? How does America fit in? When exactly did this takeoff begin?
Are other countries now catching up, or even passing, the West? But these sub-questions are all small change compared to the most important question—why did the West diverge from the rest of the world at all, when all of world history up to that time exemplified the Malthusian Trap, where productivity increased too slowly to increase per capita output even when aggregate output increased? I once saw a list of roughly different answers to this question, each with academic citations.
Probably some of them were Captain Crazy ideas tied to theories like the Phantom Time Hypothesis look it up. But most of them were at least superficially plausible. One is academic vs. Another is unitary, or largely unitary, theories vs. And the third axis is those theories that cite cultural differences vs. It is a scholarly and thought-provoking book—not without failings, but forceful in its conclusions and compelling in much of its analysis.
As far as the writing itself goes, this book is a blend of extreme clarity combined with unfortunate opacity. It is clear in that Pomeranz precisely states every single one of his arguments, identifies opposing arguments, marshals the facts, and gives his conclusions, appropriately hedged if necessary. The reader is grateful for this focus on academic excellence. The opacity comes in with the phrasing, which is infected with a heavy dose of academic-speak. In this, he is the opposite of popular authors such as Jared Diamond author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, which posits that Europeans were the lucky beneficiary of a series of ecological rolls of the dice , whose book is mostly flash though that does not mean Diamond is wrong.
An interesting chore, perhaps, like mucking out the stables of a herd of unicorns, but still a chore. Pomeranz begins, in his Introduction, by narrowing the scope of the discussion. Every careful author on the topic has to do this, or the size and scope of the topic will necessarily overwhelm. What specific countries are we examining? What time period are we talking about? What measures are we using? Pomeranz does this, and he applies the same narrowing analysis to both the West and to Eurasia, which is his main comparison area.
Thus, he ascribes to England the prime mover role; he focuses on the first Industrial Revolution, beginning around ; and he uses mostly precisely defined, but narrow, economic measures, which are widely available for England but less so for Eurasia a problem he works hard to remedy. He sometimes brings in data from other European countries as parallels e. First, European progress prior to was not significantly advanced beyond the most advanced portions of China.
This framework is the sum of the book, and it is clearly laid out in the Introduction. The rest of the book, divided into three parts and six chapters, merely adds detail, and plenty of it. Pomeranz goes through the various candidates for pre-existing relevant differences, ranging from different types of accumulated and non-accumulated capital mostly non-monetary ; life expectancy; birthrates; technology; market characteristics which gets their own chapter ; and so on. He addresses each and concludes it fails to demonstrate a real difference between China and Europe prior to As to the first fault, for example, Pomeranz begins by admitting that Europe was more advanced technologically and had a culture more open to science.
No doubt, but irrigation was not needed in Europe, both because rainfall was more constant and because rice was not the main crop, so it is hardly surprising that Europeans did not focus on the technology of irrigation. Then he starts rambling about land in the New World, prefiguring one of his main contentions but not sticking to the point at hand. Then he says that India was better at hand textile weaving and dyeing, which is true enough, but irrelevant and that India is today still the leader in hand-weaving seems relevant, but is not mentioned here.
It may be that those academics who claim superiority for Europe in both technology and scientific thinking are wrong. But Pomeranz fails miserably to show that to be the case. Which is fine, but it does suggest that the premise on which he builds the rest of the book rests on fragile foundations at best.
Of course, many authors have written entire books on this topic see, e. In Part Two, Pomeranz treats as established that China and Europe did not materially economically differ around He therefore turns to why China and Europe diverged after He examines many varied theories, including consumption of luxury goods; firm structure; state control and expropriation; interstate violence; and so on. Along the way he rejects the common left-wing trope that Asia was heading toward an industrial revolution until crushed by Western imperialism.
This is what Pomeranz outlines in Part Three. He admits that technological creativity was the real driver of the Industrial Revolution—but claims that coal and the New World made that creativity possible. Every part of the world had ever-increasing constraints on growth, because without something new, diminishing returns were kicking in.
Fuel, fiber and food were all getting harder to obtain; ecological damage was becoming widespread as different areas struggled to feed growing populations; and that damage was rapidly mortgaging the future.
And coal allowed those manufactured goods to be produced in ever-greater quantities, creating an expanding engine of growth.
Pomeranz relies heavily on Denmark as a possible alternate path for Europe, the exception that proves the rule. Denmark had no takeoff until the 20th Century, instead relying on increasingly intensive agriculture with diminishing returns, and it had very little industry. But this ignores the extremely significant cultural differences between Denmark and all of Scandinavia, but especially Denmark and other parts of Europe.
The crushing of excellence as shown by achievement necessarily leads to less, or zero, achievement. Another similar example is Spain, which after it promptly spent its own New World gains immediately sank into economic stagnation, and stayed there.
Without getting bogged down too much in cultural differences, which many other authors have covered with many different angles, I further note that Chinese culture was, and is, alien to the culture of the West in ways not always appreciated.
For example, in a footnote, Pomeranz notes that Chinese statistics showing high gaps between life expectancy at birth and at age one, much higher gaps than in Europe, are due to massive infanticide, among both poor and rich. It is this type of cultural difference that shows that equations across societies on purely economic measures are inadequate.
After all, one of the chief claims to morality in the West, since the days when Christianity ended ubiquitous pagan infanticide and abortion, has been the right to life of children. We do well to remind ourselves that this moral rule is the exception, rather than the rule, among human societies. Pomeranz attempts to soften the blow to his love of all things China by trying to equate this Chinese practice, without any citations, to wealthy Europeans sending children to wet nurses, where they allegedly had higher rates of death.
Even if true, one of these things is not like the other. The fact is that cultural differences are massive and ubiquitous, though they are even harder to use as the basis for quantitative comparison than the largely missing economic statistics on which Pomeranz relies. Nonetheless, I do not want to be overly negative about this book.
If all books on controversial topics were written this well, it would be a significant advance to rational analysis and understanding.
The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy
Of course, this begs the question as to why it was Europe, and not China, that engaged in a period of Discovery; that Europe as Mokyr has argued was already ahead in early forms of industrialization well before , during the 16th and 17th centuries; why it was Europe that built and then USED guns e. But there is something more to be added to this -- namely, to use J. The Chinese had technology gunpowder and they had theory science , but like the Greeks of the Hellenistic period who only used their knowledge of steam-power to power toys at the court of the Ptolemies, they largely failed to combine the two -- which is precisely what was accomplished, to a degree previously undreamt of, in the Europe of the 15thth century. What Europe had, of course, that was unique -- was a fully developed and formalizable theory of induction, which had been developed by logicians in Oxford at the time of Robert Grosseteste see, e. This concept of analysis by which one passes from the confused whole presented in sensation to the elements that compose it -- and then, via synthesis, back to the whole -- this concept of analysis, however, as Francis Bacon and only a few others have seen, was derived directly from the Socratic dialectic -- which itself is inconceivable without the highly articulated and inflected nature of the ancient Greek language.
Reviews 4 The Great Divergence brings new insight to one of the classic questions of history: Why did sustained industrial growth begin in Northwest Europe, despite surprising similarities between advanced areas of Europe and East Asia? As Ken Pomeranz shows, as recently as , parallels between these two parts of the world were very high in life expectancy, consumption, product and factor markets, and the strategies of households. Perhaps most surprisingly, Pomeranz demonstrates that the Chinese and Japanese cores were no worse off ecologically than Western Europe. Another crucial difference that he notes has to do with trade. Fortuitous global conjunctures made the Americas a greater source of needed primary products for Europe than any Asian periphery.
This simple question has proven to be nightmarishly difficult to resolve definitively, although many explanations have been advanced. Does it resolve the question successfully? He shows that many of the characteristics often thought to be peculiar to Europe applied to China as well. Thus, many of the institutional features that were important for the breakout into dynamic growth were not uniquely European. Pomeranz argues that many of the elements of the conventional wisdom about why China did not experience the explosive growth that characterized Europe after are seriously in error. The Chinese state was not the growth-choking anticapitalist machine that it has sometimes been portrayed as having been, and in fact it was probably less of a drag on private markets than were the states of mercantilist Europe.