Reading Notes: Week 2: The "European" "Miracle"


J. Bradford DeLong and Andrei Shleifer, "Princes and Merchants: City Growth Before the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Law and Economics 36 (October 1993), pp. 671-702.
David Landes, Revolution in Time (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 1-82.

Whether you believe that human progress is essentially continuous (a la Michael Kremer, and the "formalist" position in economic anthropology) or is marked by breaks (social-structural or epistemological, modes of production or modes of thought) you have to account for the "rise" of Europe in the centuries around 1500. Back in the first century B.C. northwestern Europe was barely worth conquering: Cicero could (reportedly) denounce C. Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain on the grounds that the Britons were too dumb to make good slaves. In the eighth century northwestern Europe was definitely not worth conquering: do you think that the armies of Islam, which had marched from Medina to the Hindu Kush and to the Atlantic, were seriously discomfited by Charles "the Hammer" and his few thugs-on-horses? But by 1500 western European technologies are at least the equal of those in the other high civilizations of Eurasia. And by 1700 there is a substantial technological, organizational, and mercantile gap in favor of Europe.

Two of this week's readings are simplistically state-centered: one micro (David S. Landes's reading of China's technological history through the... lens of the clock), and one macro (DeLong and Shleifer's simplistic attempt to attribute Europe's commercial revolutions to the military incompetence of sixteenth-century Habsburg generals and paymasters, and to the failure of Felipe II "the prudent" Habsburg and Mary I "the bloody" Tudor to have an heir to rule Europe from Ulster to Hungary).

What are the weaknesses of this state-centric argument? What are its strengths? And what pieces of evidence would convince you that it is worth taking seriously?

Jan de Vries, "The Industrious Revolution and the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic History 54 (1994), pp. 249-70.

A third reading is positively "Smithian"--Adam Smithian, that is. The division of labor depends on the extent of the market. Productivity depends on the division of labor. And so once the European market had become sufficiently extended, there was an "industrious" revolution.

Shouldn't other parts of the world have similarly experienced "industrious revolutions"? (Perhaps Japan did.) Why were not the same forces and pressures active in China and India, and in the regional economy knit together by Indian Ocean trade?

Eric Jones, The European Miracle (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 45-70, 85-126, 202-222.
Carlo Cipolla, Before the Industrial Revolution (New York: Norton, 1980), pp. 143-9, 167-92, 220-96.

The final two of this week's readings are, perhaps, the least memorable because they are the least one-sided. Both Jones and Cipolla have something favorable to say about practically every theory or hypothesis at one point or other in their works.

Even so, can you identify a main thrust or theme? Cipolla is clearly concerned with the growing web of mercantile activity as a cradle in which the industrial revolution could then grow--no commercial revolution, no industrial revolution. He is also interested (a theme shared by much of the writings of Jan de Vries) in demonstrating how "modern" these pre-industrial economies were.

Does Jones ultimately come down on the side of those who believe that European agriculture--wheat plus lots of animals--is a large part of the story, and that the rest is the result of political fragmentation (which makes princes love military technology, and also provides space for mercantile minorities and innovators to escape)?