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This is a provocative book in the best sense; it addresses an important subject, is well argued, is based on an excellent scholarship, and reaches conclusions that will stimulate a great deal of debate. Pomeranz seeks to explain how Western European Societies made the leap into industrialization and world domination. Pomeranz begins by rebutting prior explanations of European success. Most versions of these models, which were reasonable proposals given prior fragmentary knowledge of Asian history, are demographic or economic in nature. Europeans had lower birth-rates, Europeans were the first to develop free markets, consumption of key luxury goods was higher and primed the pump for international trade, Early Modern Europe underwent proto-industrialization as handicraft production for trade spread into the countryside, labor was freer in Europe. Pomeranz, an accomplished specialist on Chinese history, demonstrates that there was little difference in all these important variables between China, Japan, and Western Europe. Indeed, in some respects, 18th century China may have had freer labor and markets than 18th century Europe. Pomeranz takes particular pains to attack the triumphalist notion that "free markets" lead inexorably to modernization. For Pomeranz, European capitalism is a key to development of industrialization but only a very particular form of capitalism unique to Europe. This is the state sponsored or directed capitalism that drove overseas expansion. This peculiar form of capitalism, not the untrammeled free market, became the key to European imperialism and colonialism, and the development of key capitalist institutions such as joint stock companies. Also, the success of this peculiar capitalism was contingent on a series of external factors beyond European control; access to coerced labor made possible by the existence of slavery in Africa, conquest of the Western Hemisphere made possible by the epidemiologic advantages of Europeans, and the establishment of transglobal trading networks created by the thirst of China for American silver. The uniquely and specfically European feature is the existence of state sponsored/directed overseas expansion. This in turn is seen as a function of dynastic/nascent state competition within Europe, a factor absent in China. The actual beginning of industrialization is attributed to the lucky availability of accessible coal mining in Britain and the need for better water pumps leading to the application of steam technology.
From the starting point that China, Japan, and Western Europe were economically equivalent in the 18th century, Pomeranz develops a very interesting model of normative development. He sees China and Japan as preceding along the most likely lines of development; increased population growth leading to tremendous pressure on land and other resources like timber availabilty, economic stagnation, intensification of labor to maintain food productivity, and decay of proto-industrialization. Western Europe escaped this fate by the lucky series of events sketched above. Pomeranz presents a set of interesting examples to buttress his hypotheses. For example, Denmark, a major loser in 17th century wars and a failure in overseas trade, followed a path similar to that seen in Japan and China. The Chinese state, both under the Ming adn Qing, was expansionist but expansion was directed west into Asia and the result was reproduction of existing zones of economic activity, not the highly specialized colonial-core structure developed by the Atlantic economy.
There are some significant deficiencies in this book. One is rhetorical; at no point does Pomeranz specifically and explicitly differentiate between necessary and sufficient causes. The reader is left to infer Pomeranz's view of what factors are sufficient (individually, none), what is necessary, and what has to be combined in order to produce a Europe. Another defect is that the book reflects clearly Pomeranz's training as a China specialist. Simply put, despite an impressive amount of reading, he is not nearly as knowledgeable about Europe. There is a lot less detail about Europe. Partly, this is because he takes a lot of effort to demonstrate the equivalence of China, Japan, and Western Europe in key areas. But, as he acknowledges at the beginning of the book, Western Europe must have had unique features that made it possible of European societies to seize the opportunities presented. Expansionist capitalism is one but the genesis of this institution is not really explored. I suspect also that he underestimates considerably the importance of the European scientific and technological tradition. Finally, in a book that emphasizes the fortunate contingencies that led to European success, he overlooks a really obvious fact of geography. The Atlantic is a much narrower ocean than the Pacific and the Western Hemisphere was more easily available to Europe.
A really stimulating book. Not the last word but the first major installment in a major research program.
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James B. Delong
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China's Advocate: A Review of Ken Pomeranz's The GreatDivergence
The Great Divergence -------------------- Forsome time now it has been becoming clear that there is something wrong with the traditional story of the coming of the nineteenth-century European industrial revolution and the associated trans-oceanic European empires. The conventional wisdom sees Western European civilization's edge building gradually yet inexorably--with a pronounced setback during the Dark Ages--from the days when the conquests of Julius Caesar and Rome's Julian dynasty emperors brought the high civilization of the Greeks to Eboracum, Londinium, Lutetia, and Colonia Claudia. Western Europeans then build on top of Greek philosophy, Greek literature, Roman engineering, and Roman law. From Naples in the south to Stockholm in the north, from Vienna in the east to Sagres in the west, the tide builds to a flood: the rule of law, the consent of estates to taxation, rational thought, the replacement of magic by religion, security of private property, the horse collar, the scientific revolution, and war-driven technological advance gave--according to the conventional wisdom--European societies as of 1500 a substantial and decisive edge in technology and productivity. During the early modern period from 1500 to 1800 this decisive edge blossomed into the social, political and economic institutions of the modern age that created today's wealthy industrial democracies.
Elsewhere, according to the conventional wisdom, civilizations with agriculture, metalworking, and complex social organization hit the Malthusian wall: populatoin pressure and lack of resources kept standards of living low in spite of sophisticated but non-mechanical technology, and elites focused much more on grabbing the surplus from the people and from one another than on enlarging the surplus through further investment or innovation. The great Eurasian agrarian empires and civilizations had larger populations, more splendid courts, and richer elites, but they were a dead end for a humanity trapped under a monstrous regiment of kings and priests.
Eurasian Parity --------------- However there was always something wrong with this triumphal march, something visible to those with eyes to look. The fifteenth-century Portuguese Infante Dom Henrique sat in his castle at Sagres and sent his ships in small squadrons groping for perhaps a thousand miles south along the coast of Africa. The fifteenth-century Chinese notable Cheng Ho--in modern transliteration Zheng Ze, the eunuch admiral who was a trusted lieutenant of the Yung-lo Emperor--took 30,000 men and seventy ships on eight voyages to the Indian Ocean, reaching as far as Zanzibar and projecting power on such a scale that Sri Lankan kings who were not properly respectful of Chinese power were brought back to China to make their apologies. The Ottoman Emperor Mehmet II deployed the largest and strongest pieces of artillery in the world--specially made for the occasion--for his conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The Great Moghul Babur's use of advanced technology--matchlocks--and tactics--wagons tied together as field fortifications--allowed him to decisively defeat an army eight times his size at Panipat and conquer northern India. We think that the populations of China and India grew more rapidly than the population of Europe from 1500-1850: this suggests--at least if we believe in Malthus--somewhat more prosperous societies with more rapidly growing economies in the Eurasian "east."
In the efficiency of agriculture, in the scale of social organization, in the sophistication of consumer goods, in the density of population, and even in navigation and military technology the fifteenth-century Eurasian east--from the Ottoman Empire through Iran and India to southeast Asia, China, and Japan--appears nowhere less and almost always more "civilized" than the small, semi-anarchic proto-nation-states of western Europe. As Pomeranz puts it, the core regions of Eurasia "the Yangzi delta, the Kanto plain, Britain and the Netherlands, Gujarat--shared some crucial features with each other, which they did not share with the rest of the continent or subcontinent around them... relatively free markets, extensive handicraft industries, highly commercialized agriculture..." The similarities are more impressive than the differences.
So what happened? If the western European edge in technology, organization, and productivity was not a long-standing broad tidal wave building slowly since the coronation of Charlemagne, then how did the world we live in come to be? How did the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century become a Portuguese (and later a Dutch) lake? How did Britain conquer India in the century from 1750? And why did the industrial revolution take place in late eighteenth century Britain? In Ken Pomeranz's book The Geat Divergence we have one serious attempt at an answer. It is a wonderful book. It is the first book I have read that takes the problem of the post-1500 great divergence between the Eurasian west and the Eurasian east seriously and thoughtfully, and that does not run far ahead of its evidence in pursuit of pre-chosen conclusions.
This is not to say that I agree with the book. I think that it misses--or rather downplays--three important phenomena that, in my opinion at least, are key to understanding the past millennium of world history. The first is the shift in the locus of invention--not in the level of technology, but in the birth of new technologies--from China to Europe around the year 1000, and subsequently what appears to be a steadily growing European lead in inventiveness and science. The second is the extraordinary organizational coherence of western Europe by 1700, which shows itself in areas as divergent as the military superiority of European-trained musketeers in eighteenth century India, in the extraordinary reach and longevity of Europe's armed trans-oceanic trading companies, and the requirements of at least the appearance of due process of law--trials and bills of attainder--imposed on even the most tyrannical northwest European rulers. The third is the late nineteenth century firebreak: as Sidney Pollard put it, the fire of nineteenth-century industrialization burned brightly to the limits of western European populations and colonial settlements, smoldered in eastern Europe, and there stopped (with the single exception of Japan)--no nineteenth-century industrialization in Turkey, Egypt, India, or China. The fact that the nineteenth-century Eurasian east did not while the nineteenth-century Eurasian west easily did adopt British-invented industrial technologies must be explained somehow.
But even though I think that in the end the book misses the bullseye, it is definitely a solid hit on the target. It is very much worth reading. In the past I have had a very hard time finding a book that challenges the conventional wisdom that I am not ashamed to give to my students--for example, I can't get my students to take Immanuel Wallerstein seriously, for his unwillingness to count makes it impossible to assess whether his anecdotes are representative and his teleological functionalism makes it nearly impossible to figure out just what the proposed chain of causation is; and they have a hard time dealing with Jack Goody, who splits hairs ever more finely as if deconstructing sociological and anthropological concepts will somehow lead to understanding. This is a book I will not be ashamed to give my students. And it makes me think.
The Grand Counterfactual ------------------------ At the core of Pomeranz's book is a grand counterfactual. Suppose that you removed the Americas from the surface of the globe: Columbus sails west in 1492 and dies of thirst in a mammoth world ocean. And suppose that you erased the coal deposits from the island of Britain and from the Rhine valley. What would post-1500 world history have looked like then?
Pomeranz's answer is that the most likely trajectory would have seen economic life in northwest Europe evolve the way that economic life in Gujerat or the Yangzi delta evolved between 1500 and 1800: a flourishing commercially-revolutionized society bumps up against ecological limits as deforestation, declining marginal products of labor, the rising ability of peripheral regions to make their own manufactures, and so forth reduce the returns to innovation and commerce and increase the rewards of landlord or priestly surplus extraction. Thus growth stops. And what growth there is follows a labor-intensive, resource-economizing logic that--as it did in the nineteenth century Yangzi delta--boosts elite consumption but not mass standards of living, and leaves no space for an industrial revolution.
Pomeranz's argument is powerful. For he is right in saying that "industrial capitalism, in which the large-scale use of inanimate energy sources allowed an escape from the co END
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The Great Divergence is a multi-causal explanation for the economic rise of Western Europe. The book draws upon diverse existing accounts, including those that see the root causes within Europe itself, and those that see the causes as being related to overseas enterprises by the European powers. However, the book goes beyond these existing accounts by offering a synthetic, multi-stage story, showing how each factor mattered at a certain point in time, but was not alone sufficient to trigger the rise of the West. Thus, one comes away with a belief that the story of the West's ascendency cannot satisfactorily be told by Marx's focus on "primitive accumulation" in the New World, nor by North's focus on institutions of property rights in Europe, nor by Braudel's focus on intra-Europe trade and accumulation.
What is the structure of Pomeranz's argument? Again, it sees different factors as mattering at different times. Thus, the argument is causally sequential, going from technology, to war, to colonization, to markets, with supplies of natural resources a constant bonus and an important final step to industrialization (coal). All of these causes are necessary, for Pomeranz, but none are sufficient, explaining why Asia, despite having many of these same variables (some in even more favorable combinations than Europe), was not able to match Europe's rise.
Part 1 begins with the puzzle of "why Europe and not Asia?", going back to pre-1800 times. Against those who would see crucial pre-industrial differences between the two regions, with Europe having some kind of proto-industrial edge, Pomeranz demonstrates with statistical and secondary evidence that Europe possessed no edge over Asia in either life expectancy, fertility, or supply of capital. While he does find a slight technological edge in Europe, as other scholars have posited, he argues that this edge would not have alone been sufficient to cause Europe's rise, without the later use of favorable stocks of natural resources, and overseas conquest and exploitation. Thus, the sequential nature of the argument comes in here, showing how an earlier technological edge, combined with later colonialism and accidents of natural resource endowment (e.g. coal), allowed Europe to escape the Malthusian trap of population growth under constrained resources.
Indeed, Pomeranz demonstrates that the "silverization" of the Chinese economy, coupled with slavery, plantations and precious metals extraction in the New World, were the only factors differentiating markets in Europe from those in Asia - otherwise, the relationship between consumers and goods was relatively similar in both regions. Against Braudel and North, who emphasize economic institutions, Pomeranz shows that nonmarket factors like colonization and wars between European states, coupled with lending institutions that had lower interest rates than in Asia, laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution. This groundwork wouldn't have mattered, however, if continued New World settlement didn't ease the growing scarcity of land, since more plentiful labor and capital would have been bottlenecked in the absence of a new land supply.
The focus on nonmarket factors like war is important, because it ties in with later developments that impacted market forms. Because states projected interstate rivalries overseas, according to Pomeranz, organizational forms like joint-stock companies and licensed monopolies arose. This is because armed long-distance trade and export-oriented colonies required "exceptional amounts of capital willing to wait a relatively long time for returns" (20), which could only be provided by these new organizational forms.
However, the book is not a simplistic account that sees colonization as the sole solution, since Pomeranz spends an entire chapter showing how overseas colonies alone could not provide a market impetus for the Industrial Revolution, due mainly to the initially high costs of transport and low demand for manufactured goods in the colonies. Instead, Pomeranz sees the growing use of coal as a key factor in spurring industrialization in Europe, and combining with increasing use of slavery (since slaves produced less subsistence products and thus lived more off imported, manufactured goods) to begin the construction of a world market that traded manufactured goods for raw materials and land-intensive products, while further easing Europe's ecological burden through continued settlement.
The New World had another advantage over Asia. In Asia cash-cropping was through free labor, meaning that exporters and manufacturers were free to shift away from activities with diminishing returns. This efficiency was a double-edged sword, however, since it allowed rising incomes and population growth, which Pomeranz claims diminished Asians' need to both import manufactured goods and to export surplus products. In the case of China, well-functioning regional markets, because of growing population, scarce land, and proto-industrialization, precluded empire-wide markets that could take advantage of more scale and specialization. In the New World, however, production was much more specialized (again, because of slave-based colonies), meaning that larger surpluses of people, raw materials and products were exchanged between the New World and Europe. This dynamic of increasing returns continued even after independence and emancipation, leading eventually (with coal) to the Industrial Revolution.
Again, Pomeranz's argument is about timing as a key factor. Since his Malthusian trap and balance between factors is delicate and fragile, if variables appear at the wrong historical time in this balance, their impact can go awry. An example is the timing of coal and colonization, which, had they appeared later, might have come too late to rescue Europe from Malthusian crisis. Methodologically, Pomeranz acheives much of his arguments about timing through counterfactuals, which generally do a good job of showing how Asia originally had much of the potentiality that Europe did, thus illuminating the large amount of sheer luck that factored into Europe's rise.
Pomeranz's other methodological tool is statistical data. The book has exhaustive appendices with detailed data on soil, timber, grain acreage, etc. Further, the breadth of his historical scholarship is impressive, showing an ability to cite widely from area experts in both Asia and Europe; no mean feat. In short, the high quality of the data, coupled with the reassuring, causally multidimensional sophistication of the argument, make the book a formidable target for any potential criticisms.