Reading Notes for September 8, Malthus Unbound
Economics 210a, Fall 1999
Massimo Livi-Bacci (1992), A Concise History of World Population
(Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 30-136.
Background on the demographic transition--on the "Malthusian"
population dynamics of pre-industrial societies, on the extraordinary
variance of the pre-industrial death rate, on the coming of the
mortality declines and growth-enabled fertility increases that
then caused the population explosion, and on the subsequent decline
in fertility to our present state of near-zero-population-growth
in the most industrialized economies.
Do you see any weaknesses in this story? Any hints that the
demographic future might not be as already baked-in-the-cake
as Livi-Bacci would seem to argue?
Richard Easterlin (1995), "Industrial Revolution and
Mortality Revolution: Two of a Kind?" Journal of Evolutionary
Economics 5:4 (December), pp. 393-408.
As Easterlin sees it, the population explosion was first of
all the consequence of a public-health revolution --argely independent
of but parallel to the industrial revolution. The industrial
revolution greatly amplified productivity in manufacturing, resource
extraction, and agriculture. The public-health revolution greatly
increased human life expectancy by giving governments and doctors
easy-to-use tools to conquer many of the major causes of death.
Both had their origins in modern science. But they proceeded
by and large independently.
The mortality decline of the public-health revolution set
off the population explosion: fertility was still high and birth
control scarce, hence populations grew rapidly. However, Easterlin
believes that the population explosion is nearly over: Birth
control is now cheap. The education requirements of modern economies
have turned children from capital goods--assets to a household's
production and insurance for the parents' old age--into consumption
goods: sources of joy and of expense. The net result is a fall
in the birth rate to match the fall in the death rate, and a
worldwide human population that will approach stability over
the next century.
This will happen whether the relatively poor economies of
the globe succeed in their task of economic growth, or fall further
and further behind.
Do you believe him?
Eric Jones (1981), The European Miracle (New York:
Cambridge University Press), pp. 45-70, 85-126, 202-22.
We read four chapters out of Eric Jones's tremendously stimulating--and
tremendously speculative--European Miracle:
Technological Drift, 45-70: "Europe was a mutant
system in its uninterrupted amassing of knowledge about technology....
Nothing is clearer than that the fires of modernisation and industrialisation,
once lighted in Britain and Belgium and the Rhineland, burned
quickly to the fringes of this European system. Even Russia and
the Christian colonies of the Ottoman Empire smouldered. But
at the asbestos edge of the Muslim sphere the fires abruptly
died. They never [before World War II] took light over most of
the non-European world, Europe's overseas annexes excepted....
Japan was the only successful non-European industrialiser..."
This is a strong statement of "European exceptionalism."
Do you buy it? Is there something to be explained in terms of
a strongly disproportionate ability of "European" cultures
to grab hold of industrial technology and civilization once it
is on offer? If so, do you buy Jones's attempts to explain what
was special about European culture and modern industrial technology?
The Market Economy, 85-103: In this chapter Jones tries
to sketch out how it was that the European economy became a market
economy--how the state withdrew largely from the business of
prescribing occupations, setting prices and wage rates, and monkeying
with what exchanges were allowed in the interest of making its
clients happy, and settled back to the business of providing
rules of the game and taking a cut through organized systems
of taxation. Jones sees--and others, notably Adam Smith before
him, saw--this as a step of major, major importance: getting
the government's nose out of the detailed business of economic
regulation enables a potential explosion of entrepreneurial activity--it
is the source of the "industrious revolution" in de
Vries's article a little way down the reading list. Read this
chapter as background for de Vries's Presidential Address.
The States System, 104-126: The core of Jones's argument
in this chapter is that kingdoms--states that see themselves
as one of a number of equals and under threat by their neighbors--have
a much greater interest in a strong economic base (and in better
military technology) than do empires which see themselves as
the center of the universe (and only have to keep order among
the barbarians). Moreover, many centers of power within a single
cultural, political, and economic ekumene give extra-great opportunities
for variation, selection, and imitation--which is one of the
most powerful mechanisms for change, social or otherwise.
China and the Ming and Manchu Empires, 202-222: The
"Great Stagnation" of China under the Yuan, Ming, and
Qing dynasties remains one of the great questions of economic
history. Certainly any observer of the world around the year
1000 would see China under the Tang and Sung as the world's most
progressive and economically dynamic civilization. But what happened
thereafter? Why no Chinese industrial revolution?
In my view this chapter is worth reading because it shows
Eric Jones thrashing about, searching for answers, without a
great deal of success. What answers does Jones try to give? And
how convincing are they?
Michael Kremer (1993), "Population
Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990,"
Quarterly Journal of Economics 108 (August 1993), pp.
Depending on who you talk to, this paper is either hailed
as a stroke of genius or condemned as showing how a good mind
can be ruined by too much exposure to modern economic theory.
I like the paper a lot--especially its first half. I see the
correlation of population levels and growth rates as a stroke
of genius. I see the correlation of pre-Columbus land areas and
population levels as also very suggestive. (I am, however, still
waiting for an explanation of slow pre-Columbian growth in Africa:
it's hard to argue that it was effectively cut off from Eurasia
as far as the diffusion of ideas is concerned when the biggest
city in East Africa is named "The House of Peace" in
a major language spoken across four thousand miles of southern
Eurasia. (After Columbus, on the other hand, I have no problem
understanding slow growth in Africa.))
- ...what Tom Rothenberg would say about the statistical work.
- ...whether you learn anything from a phase diagram that predicts
that the industrial revolution and modern economic growth happen
with probability one once someone realizes that if you hit two
chunks of flint together you might get a sharp edge you can use
for cutting things.
- ...whether you can learn anything at all from a model pitched
at such an extreme level of abstraction.
J. Bradford DeLong and Andrei Shleifer (1993), "Princes
and Merchants: City Growth Before the Industrial Revolution,"
Journal of Law and Economics 36:5 (October), pp. 671-702.
This place makes an extreme argument for a "political"
interpretation of European economic growth in the three-quarters
of a millennium before the industrial revolution. Briefly: wherever
Habsburg armies conquered and Habsburg dynasts imposed absolutist
systems of rule, economies stagnated. Wherever absolutism was
successfully resisted (in the city states of Northern Italy up
until 1500, in the Netherlands during the wars of the Counterreformation,
or in Britain after the Glorious Revolution of 1688) economies
I will be very disappointed if the class cannot think of at
least five reasons why the argument of this paper might not be
Jan de Vries (1994), "The Industrious Revolution and
the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic History
54:2 (June), pp. 249-70.
This piece shows our very own Jan de Vries (his office is
down in Dwinelle: most years he teaches half of Economics 210a)
giving the Presidential Address to the Economic History Association.
If I were to sum up Jan de Vries's lifetime intellectual mission
in a couple of phrases, it would be that he attempts to restore
honor and place to the concept of the Commercial Revolution--and
to undo the damage done to our picture of history by generations
of ignorant Marxists.
You see, the Marxist schema sees the birth of the modern world
in a transition between "feudalism"--with its kings,
lords, knights, serfs, low agricultural productivity, illiteracy,
rents-in-kind, and so on--and "capitalism"--with its
prime ministers, parliaments, robber barons, bourgeoisie, workers,
large pieces of capital equipment, dark satanic mills, markets,
and so forth. The first tended to stagnation (and poverty). The
second tends to dynamic economic growth and wealth (and unequal
distrinbution of the social product). In between comes a... mixed,
transitional period, uninteresting in theory and unimportant
in practice. Thus someone like UCLA's Perry Anderson can classify
the French ancien regime up until 1789 as a "regrouped
and recharged feudal mode of domination."
Jan de Vries says: not so. An industrial economy is
certainly different from a feudal economy, but it is also
very different from a commercial economy. And de Vries
sees no reason for presuming that the (earlier) shift from a
feudal to a commercial economy is in any sense
less central or less important than the subsequent shift from
a commercial to an industrial economy.
Hence his presidential address: a study not of the industrial
but of the industrious revolution.