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Discussing David Landes: My Contributions to Online Discussions of David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Others So Poor?

J. Bradford DeLong
Professor of Economics
U.C. Berkeley

http://www.j-bradford-delong.net
delong@econ.berkeley.edu


My review of David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Are Some So Rich and Others So Poor (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998). 544 pp. ??. ISBN: 0393040178


Thinking About Wealth and Poverty

J. Bradford DeLong

A Review of David S. Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Others So Poor (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998). 544 pp. ISBN: 0393040178.

 

David Landes has studied the history of economic development for more than half a century. His look at economic imperialism and informal empire in nineteenth-century Egypt (Bankers and Pashas) tells the story of how small were the benefits (either for Egyptian economic development or for the long-run power and happiness of the ruling dynasty) bought at extremely high cost by borrowing from European bankers. His unsurpassed survey of technological change and its consequences in Europe since 1750 (The Unbound Prometheus) remains the most important must-read book for serious students of the industrial revolution. His study of clock-making as an instance of technological development (Revolution in Time) provides a detailed look at a small piece of the current of technological development. His works are critical points-of-reference for those who seek to understand the Industrial Revolution that has made our modern world.

Now David Landes turns to the grandest question of all: the causes of the (so far) divergent destinies and relative prosperity levels of different national economies. The Wealth of Nations in the title echoes Adam Smith, but Landes is interested in both the wealth and poverty of nations: Adam Smith lays out what went wrong as the background for his picture of how things can go right, while Landes is as interested in the roots of relative--and absolute--economic failure as of success.

He pulls no punches--of Columbus's followers' treatment of the inhabitants of the Caribbean and the Americas, Landes writes that "nothing like this would be seen again until the Nazi Jew hunts and killer drives of World War II." Landes makes no compromises with any current fashion. Readers will remember how columnist after columnist decried high-school history standards (which, truth be told, were not very good) that required students to learn about a fourteenth-century African prince, Mansa Musa, but not about Robert E. Lee; readers of Landes will find three pages on Mansa Musa, and none on Massa Robert.

We are all multiculturalists now; or, rather, serious historians have long been multiculturalists.

Nevertheless, Landes's economic history is a profoundly Eurocentric history. It is Europe-centered without apologies--rather with scorn for those who blind themselves to the fact that the history of the past 500 years is Europe-centered.

Now Landes does not think that all history should be Eurocentric. For example, he argues that a history of the world from 500 to 1500 should be primarily Islamocentric: the rise and spread of Islam was an "explosion of passion and commitment... the most important feature of Eurasian history in what we may call the middle centuries."

But a history oriented toward understanding the wealth and poverty of nations today must be Eurocentric. Goings-on in Europe and goings-on as people in other parts of the world tried to figure out how to deal with suddenly-expansionist Europeans make up the heart of the story of how some--largely western Europe and northwest Europe's settler ex-colonies--have grown very, very rich.

Moreover, relative poverty in the world today is the result of failure on the part of political, religious, and mercantile elites elsewhere to pass the tests (rigged very heavily against them) of maintaining or regaining independence from and assimilating the technologies demonstrated by the people from Europe--merchants, priests, and thugs with guns in the old days, and multinationals, international agencies, and people armed with cruise missiles in these new days--who have regularly appeared offshore in boats, often with non-friendly intent. To try to tell the story of attempted assimilation and attempted rejection without placing Europe at the pivot is to tell it wie es eigentlich gewesen nicht.

Thus Landes wages intellectual thermonuclear war on all who deny his central premise: that the history of the wealth and poverty of nations over the past millennium is the history of the creation in Europe and diffusion of our technologies of industrial production and sociological organization, and of the attempts ot people elsewhere in the world to play hands largely dealt to them by the technological and geographical expansions originating in Europe.

He wins his intellectual battles--and not just because as author he can set up straw figures as his opponents. He wins because in the large (and usually in the small) he has stronger arguments than his intellectual adversaries, who believe that Chinese technology was equal to British until 1800, that had the British not appeared the royal workshops of Mughal India would have turned into the nucleus of an industrialized textile industry, that equatorial climates are as well-suited as mid-latitude climates to the kind of agriculture that can support an Industrial Revolution, that Britain's industrial lead over France was a mere matter of chance and contingency, or any of a host of other things with which Landes does not agree.

Landes's analysis stresses a host of factors--some geographical but most cultural, having to do with the fine workings of production, power, and prestige in the pre-industrial past--that gave Eurasian civilizations an edge in the speed of technological advance over non-Eurasian ones, that gave European civilizations an edge over Chinese, Arabic, Indian, or Indonesian, that made it very likely that within Europe the breakthrough to industrialization would take place first in Britain.

And by and large it is these same factors that have made it so damnably difficult since the Industrial Revolution for people elsewhere to acquire the modern machine technologies and modes of social and economic organization found in the world economy's industrial core.

Landes's account of why Eurasian civilizations like Europe, Islam, and China had an edge in technological development over non-Eurasian (and southern Eurasian) civilizations rests heavily on climate: that it is impossible for human beings to live in any numbers in "temperate" climates before the invention of fire, housing, tanning, and sewing (and in the case of northern Europe iron tools to cut down trees), but that once the technological capability to live where it snows has been gained, the "temperate" climates allowed a higher material standard of living.

I am not sure about this part of his argument. It always seemed to me that what a pre-industrial society's standard of living was depended much more on at what level of material want culture had set its Malthusian thermostat at which the population no longer grew. I have always been impressed by accounts of high population densities in at least some "tropical" civilizations: if they were so poor because the climate made hard work so difficult, why the (relatively) dense populations?

It seems to me that the argument that industrial civilization was inherently unlikely to arise in the tropics hinges on an--implicit--argument that some features of tropical climates kept the Malthusian thermostat set at a low standard of living, and that this low median standard of living retarded development. But it is not clear to me how this is supposed to have worked. I find the argument of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel more persuasive as an explanation of why Eurasian grasslands and neighboring forests have been the core of world civilization since the Neolithic Revolution.

By contrast, I find Landes's account of why Europe--rather than India, Islam, or China--to be very well laid out, and very convincing. But I find it incomplete. I agree that it looks as if Chinese civilization had a clear half-millennium as the world's leader in technological innovation from 500 to 1000. Thereafter innovation in China appears to flag. Little seems to be done in developing further the high technologies like textiles, communication, precision metalworking (clockmaking) that provided the technological base on which the Industrial Revolution rested.

It is far from clear to me why this was so: Chinese civilization in the millennium before the Ming dynasty appears to have been the most intellectually confident and technologically progressive on the globe. As Joel Mokyr pointed out in his Lever of Riches, any explanation--whether based on hydraulic oriental despotism or static Confucian culture--that attributes inertia to China's culture falls flat because it does not account for the dynamic of economic growth and technological progress under the Tang, Sung, and Yuan.

Moreover, simple appeals to an inward turn supported by confident cultural arrogance under the Ming and Ch'ing that led to stagnation leave me puzzled. Between 1400 and 1800 we think that the population of China grew from 80 million to 300 million. That doesn't suggest an economy of malnourished peasants at the edge of biological subsistence. That doesn't suggest a civilization in which nothing new can be attempted. It suggests a civilization in which colonization of internal frontiers and improvements in agricultural technology are avidly pursued, and in which living standards are a considerable margin above socio-cultural subsistance to support the strong growth in populations.

Yet somehow China's technological lead--impressive in printing and the handling of gunpowder in the thirteenth century, impressive in shipbuilding in the fifteenth century, impressive in porcelain-making in the seventeenth century--turned into a significant technological deficit in those same centuries that China's pre-industrial population quadrupled.

Landes's handling of the story of England's apprenticeship and England's mastership--of why the Industrial Revolution took place in the northwest-most corner of Europe--is perhaps the best part of the book. He manages to weave all the varied strands from the Protestant Ethic to Magna Carta to the European love of mechanical mechanism for its own sake together in a way that many attempt, but few accomplish.

Had I been Landes I would have placed more stress on politics: the peculiar tax system of Imperial Spain, the deleterious effect of rule by Habsburgs and Habsburg puppets on northern Italy since 1500 (and the deleterious effect of rule by Normans, Hohenstaufens, Valois, Aragonese, and Habsburgs on southern Italy since 1000), the flight of the mercantile population of Antwerp north into the swamp called Amsterdam once they were subjected to the tender mercies of the Duke of Alva, more on expulsions of Moriscos, Jews, and French Protestants (certainly the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was an extraordinary shock to my seventeenth-century DeLong ancestors), the extraordinary tax burden levied on the Dutch mercantile economy by the cumulated debt of having had to spend from 1568 to 1714 fighting to achieve and preserve independence, and so forth.

I also would spend more time on Britain itself. I, at least, find myself wondering whether Britain's Industrial Revolution was a near-run thing--whether (as Adam Smith feared) the enormous burden of the Hanoverian fiscal-military state might not have nearly crushed the British economy like an egg stepped on by an elephant. Part of the answer is given by John Brewer's Sinews of Power, a work of true genius that lays out the incredible (for its time) efficiency of Britain's eighteenth-century fiscal-military state. Most of the answer is the Industrial Revolution. And some of the answer is (as Jeffrey Williamson has argued) that the burden of the first British Empire did indeed significantly slow--but not stop--industrialization.

I don't know what I think of all the issues in the interaction of the first British Empire, the British state, and British industrialization. Thus I find myself somewhat frustrated when Landes quotes Stanley Engerman and Barbara Solow that "It would be hard to claim that [Britain's Caribbean Empire was] either necessary or sufficient for an Industrial Revolution, and equally hard to deny that [it] affected its magnitude and timing," and then says "That's about it." I want to know Landes's judgment about how much. Everything affects everything else, and when economic historians have an advantage over others it is because they know how to count things--and thus how to use arithmetic to make judgments of relative importance.

But the complaint that a book that tries to do world history in 600 pages leaves stuff out is the complaint of a true grinch.

So where does Landes's narrative take us?

If there is a single key to success--relative wealth--in Landes's narrative, it is what science fiction writer David Brin calls the dogma of openness. First, openness is a willingness to borrow whatever is useful from abroad whatever the price in terms of injured elite pride or harm to influential interests. One thinks of Francis Bacon writing around 1600 of how three inventions--the compass, gunpowder, and the printing press--had totally transformed everything, and that all three of these came to Europe from China. Second, openness is a willingness to trust your own eyes and the results of your own experiments, rather than relying primarily on old books or the pronouncements of powerful and established authorities.

European cultures had enough, but perhaps only barely enough. Suppose Philip II Habsburg "the Prudent" of Spain and "Bloody" Mary I Tudor of England had together produced an heir to rule Spain, Italy, the Low Countries, and England: would Isaac Newton then have been burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno? Would the natural philosophers and mechanical innovators of seventeenth and eighteenth century England have found themselves under the scrutiny of the Inquisition? Neither Giordano Bruno, Jan Hus, nor Galileo Galilei found European culture in any sense "open."

If there is a second key, it lies in politics: a government strong enough to keep its servants from confiscating whatever they please, limited enough for individuals to be confident that the state is unlikely to suddenly put all they have at hazard, and willing once in a while to sacrifice official splendor and martial glory in order to give merchants and manufacturers an easier time making money.

In short, economic success requires a government that is, as people used to say, an executive committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie--a government that is responsive to and concerned for the well-being of a business class, a class who have a strong and conscious interest in rapid economic growth. A government not beholden to those who have an interest in economic growth is likely to soon turn into nothing more than a redistribution-oriented protection racket, usually with a very short time horizon.

Landes writes his book as his contribution to the project of building utopia--of building a much richer and more equal world, without the extraordinary divergences between standards of living in Belgium and Bangladesh, Mozambique and Mexico, Jordan and Japan that we have today. Yet at its conclusion Landes becomes uncharacteristically diffident and unusually modest, claiming that: "the one lesson that emerges is the need to keep trying. No miracles. No perfection. No millennium. No apocalypse. We must cultivate a skeptical faith, avoid dogma, listen and watch well..."

Such a change of tone sells the book short, for there are many additional lessons that emerge from Landes's story of the wealth and poverty of nations. Here are five: (1) Try to make sure that your government is a government that enables innovation and production, rather than a government that maintains power by massive redistributions of wealth from its friends to its enemies. (2) Hang your priests from the nearest lamppost if they try to get in the way of assimiliating industrial technologies or forms of social and political organization. (3) Recognize that the task of a less-productive economy is to imitate rather than innovate, for there will be ample time for innovation after catching-up to the production standards of the industrial core. (4) Recognize that things change and that we need to change with them, so that the mere fact that a set of practices has been successful or comfortable in the past is not an argument for its maintenance into the future. (5) There is no reason to think that what is in the interest of today's elite--whether a political, religious, or economic elite--is in the public interest, or even in the interest of the elite's grandchildren.

It is indeed very hard to think about problems of economic development and convergence without knowing the story that Landes tells of how we got where we are today. His book is short enough to be readable, long enough to be comprehensive, analytical enough to teach lessons, opinionated enough to stimulate thought--and to make everyone angry at least once.

I know of no better place to start thinking about the wealth and poverty of nations.


November 19, 1997

Re: Ken Pomeranz

>Rethinking 18th Century China:
>A High Standard of Living and its Implications
>

I want very much to see this forthcoming book. I have been... 
disturbed by the way that the standard picture of China (high per 
capita productivity and technology under the Sung: then the Mongols 
lay everything waste; then things stagnate under the Ming and the 
Ching) seems inconsistent with rapid pre-industrial population growth...


November 24, 1997

Greg Clark wrote:

>But first a footnote on points (1) and (2).  As stated I think that Ken
>invites us to conclude that since Yangzi Delta living standards equaled
>those of England, the Yangzi Delta must have been as technologically
>advanced as England in 1750.  This does not follow without some more work.
>Assuming that both these societies were in a Malthusian equilibrium living
>standards have nothing to do with technology, and in fact depend only on
>birth rates (which were apparently similar in China and England), and the
>determinants of death rates.  Thus even societies with a very primitive
>production technology can end up with high living standards if they have
>adverse disease conditions or fertility control. 

But population growth depends on technological change, does it 
not? And the extemely rapid growth of China's (and India's) 
early modern populations suggests an impressive degree of 
technological dynamism, does it not? 

Nevertheless, if you accept the _Smithsonian Visual Timeline of 
Inventions_ as an authority, the half-millennium from 500-1000 
A.D. definitely sees much more invention and innovation in China 
than in Europe, but by 1200 or so western Europe appears to be 
the technological innovation center of the human race.

I have always thought that the "Why?" question should be divided 
into two: First, "Why Europe (rather than Islam, India, or China)?" 
Second, within Europe, "Why England (rather than Lombardy, 
Pays-Bas, the Seine basin, or The Rhein-Main valley)?"

I am reasonably happy with my answers to the first of these two 
questions. On the second I have recently argued myself into a 
box--I now think that the extraordinary military effort mounted 
by Britain from the Glorious Revolution on should have (as Adam S
mith feared that it would) crushed the developing British economy 
like an eggshell.


 
Brad Delong



November 24, 1997

>================= EH.RES POSTING =================
>
>People,
>
>I second Greg's witticism about "nothing ever working to explain the IR."
>It's The Nots: not trade, not coal, not transport, not, not, not.  Each
>can be shown easily on STATIC grounds to be a Not.  Of course, one says:
>so much the worse for STATIC.  But the trouble is that our analytic tools
>as economists are designed for making the static arguments (gathered under
>Harberger's Law).

And if we include enough strong positive feedback loops to escape 
from the Harberger triangle trap, then _anything_--the beating 
of a butterfly's wings in southern Java--could have caused the 
industrial revolution...

Brad



December 12, 1997

>================= EH.RES POSTING =================
>Fred Carstensen posed the following questions:
>>Did the European reliance on vernacular, phonetic speech--and the
>associated written >form--significantly enhance participation in
>communication? Did it significantly lower the >barriers to entry? 
>
>This point is argued in "Asia's Orthographic Dilemma," published last
>year by one of the University Presses.  I am not totally convinced by
>its logic, which addresses the drag to literacy posed by an ideographic
>system.  In any case, the Asian countries are not noticably held back
>by this these days, though in the long run it may be limiting.  
>
>In 1750 there were several hundred Europeans who had the physics and
>math knowledge to calculate a rocket trajectory to the moon.  So far as
>I know, there were NO Chinese who could do this, although they
>invented the sold fuel rocket centuries earlier.  Calculus, physics,
>and by mid-19th C. chemistry.  Isn't this enough to explain the
>difference, or do only economics and belles lettres count (then
>it IS hard to find an explanation, I guess)?
>
>
>Jeffrey F. Friedman

But in 1650 there were zero Europeans who had the physics and math knowledge to calculate a rocket trajectory to the moon.

I have always been tempted by the Gutenberg hypothesis: no printing 
from movable type, no way for Martin Luther to get his point of 
view out fast enough and so Luther's Reformation gets squashed 
the way all previous heresies did. No Protestant Reformation, 
and you get a let more barbecued natural philosophers and no 
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific revolution...

Brad Delong


December 12, 1997

>
>Would history be different if the Vikings had introduced small pox in
>Newfoundland, and it had had time to spread and the native populations to
>develope resistance?
>
>Rebecca Menes


Now that's an interesting one... Expose Americans to the European 
disease pool around 1000 A.D...

I think the Spanish conquistadores still conquer the Carribean 
islands quickly. But Pizarro and Cortes were near-run things as 
it was, with half the Inca and Aztec populations dying around them.

I suspect the history of Spain in the Americas would then look a lot 
more like the Portuguese in India and Indonesia, or the Dutch in 
Indonesia...

Brad DeLong


December 12, 1997

>================= EH.RES POSTING =================
>Ken Pomerantz has made some very interesting suggestions here regarding
>colonialism, mercantilism and slavery as contributors to the
>industrialization of Europe.  Not that I want to slight China, but since
>most of us seem more familiar with western economic history, I was
>wondering if we might focus on this, the "second half" of his thesis for a
>while.  Apropros of that and also the release of Amistad, I was wondering
>if anyone has read Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery
>(Verso, 1997)?  I haven't but I understand it makes a sophisticated
>connection between slavery, colonialism and European economic development.   
>
>Kenneth Lipartito			
>Associate Professor				
>Department of History	
>============ FOOTER TO EH.RES POSTING ============
>For information, send the message "info EH.RES" to lists@eh.net.

I bought it... four months ago. It's in the pile, but the pile grows larger...

Brad Delong


March 12, 1998

Re:
>
>"It always seemed to me [Brad] that what a pre-industrial society's
>standard of living was depended much more on at what level of material want
>culture had set its Malthusian thermostat at which the population no longer
>grew."
>
>Brad is a Malthusian. And societies decide "at what level" to set their
>"Malthusian thermostats." Does this mean: they are poor because they are
>stupid?
>

No, it does not.

Why do you suggest that it might?


March 13, 1998

James Blaut wrote:

>>I believe, and have argued
>>in a couple of books, that Europe had no advantage whatever, actual or
>>potential, over other Eastern Hemisphere civilizations before the Conquest
>>of America. The Conquest led to the looting and mining of precious metals
>>in an amount that may have doubled the quantity in circulation in the Old
>>World as a whole during the 16th century. This is not a monetraist
>>argument: specie was a product, and holding such a huge quantity of this
>>product allowed European burghers to buy out the landlord class and begin
>>to ruin competition on the coasts of Africa and Asia. Soon came further
>>huge profits from the slave trade and slave plantations. (As early as 1600
>>the value of sugar exported from Brazil was double the value of all exports
>>from England in that year.) And generalizing: the wealth from colonialism
>>led to the rise of capitalism, the rise of Europe, and eventually the
>>industrial revolution. (Why did Europeans and not Asians or Africans
>>conquer the Americas? Location, location, location.) The essence of this
>>argument is a denial that Europe had, actually or potentially,
>>psychologically or culturally or environmentally, any advantage over
>>non-Europe at the close of the Middle Ages.


The argument that it was the conquest of the Americas that made all 
the difference is tempting. But I have always thought that two points 
count heavily against it:

First, that the Portuguese established maritime dominance over the 
Indian Ocean and Indonesia before the conquest of the Americas had 
a chance to affect anything...

Second, that the leading edge of technological advance had shifted 
from China to Europe well before the conquest of the Americas. 
Counting inventions from my very nice _Smithsonian Visual 
Timeline of Inventions_:


Years		China	India	Europe	Islam	Indonesia	America	

501-1000	  9	  1	  3	  2	    1		  0
1001-1400	  3	  0	 11	  1	    0		  0
1401-1600	  0	  0	 22	  0	    0		  0
1601-1800	  0	  0	 52	  0	    0		  1


Something big and interesting in technology and innovation was already 
happening in Europe centuries before the conquest of the Americas. Now 
it is possible that without the conquest Europe's second-millennium 
fit of tinkering with mechanisms would have not led to anything like 
the industrial revolution we have seen over the past two centuries. 
But it is also possible that even with the conquest the industrial 
revolution in Europe could have been stopped before it started. 
(My favorite no-industrial-revolution counterfactual involves the 
establishment of a universal Habsburg monarchy over western Europe 
in the second half of the sixteenth century, along with a victorious 
counterreformation that burns a bunch of astronomers and physicists 
at the stake...)


Brad DeLong




March 15, 1998

>>
>>"I don't know what I think of all the issues in the interaction of the
>>first British Empire, the British state, and British industrialization.
>>Thus I find myself somewhat frustrated when Landes quotes Stanley Engerman
>>and Barbara Solow that 'It would be hard to claim that [Britain's Caribbean
>>Empire was] either necessary or sufficient for an Industrial Revolution,
>>and equally hard to deny that [it] affected its magnitude and timing,' and
>>then says 'That's about it.' I want to know Landes's judgment about how
>>much. Everything affects everything else, and when economic historians have
>>an advantage over others it is because they know how to count things--and
>>thus how to use arithmetic to make judgments of relative importance."
>>
>>I assume that Landes is here quoting Solow and Engerman on the matter of
>>the significance which the Caribbean colonies, the slave plantations, the
>>slave trade, and the triangular trade(s) had for the industrial revolution
>>in Britain. Yes, a lot of counting is involved. And a number of economic
>>and other, lesser, sorts of historians -- even a humble geographer or two
>>-- have argued that all of this was absolutely central to the industrial
>>rervolution. Brad doubtless is funning us here: he must know this
>>literature and these debates. So do I, and I think that it would be very
>>wrong to deny that these extra-European forces were of profound
>>significance for the industrial revo9lution.
>>
>>"So where does Landes's narrative take us? If there is a single key to
>>success--relative wealth--in Landes's narrative, it is openness. First,
>>openness is a willingness to borrow whatever is useful from abroad...
>>Second, openness is a willingness to trust your own eyes and the results of
>>your own experiments, rather than relying primarily on old books or the
>>pronouncements of powerful and established authorities."
>>
>>Only Europeans were "open?"
>>
>>"If there is a second key, it lies in politics: a government strong enough
>>to keep its servants from confiscating whatever they please, limited enough
>>for individuals to be confident that the state is unlikely to suddenly put
>>all they have at hazard, and willing once in a while to sacrifice official
>>splendor and martial glory in order to give merchants and manufacturers an
>>easier time making money. In short, economic success requires a government
>>that is, as people used to
>>say, an executive committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie--a
>>government that is responsive to and concerned for the well-being of a
>>business class, a class who have a strong and conscious interest in rapid
>>economic growth. A government not beholden to those who have an interest in
>>economic growth is likely to soon turn into nothing more than a
>>redistribution-oriented protection racket, usually with a very short time
>>horizon."
>>
>>Quite right, and nicely said. But all of this came about after the rise of
>>capitalism. If you can explain the rise of cpitalism, you can explain the
>>rise of a capitalist-oriented state and one that will put its shoulder to
>>the task of accumulation and industriual development. But is Brad
>>suggesting that this political quality (like "openness") somehow goes way
>>back in Eurtopean history?  A well-known argument but a false one.
>>
>>As Brad knows -- we've tussled before -- I hold to a very different theory.
>>Brad's (and Landes's) arguments are serious and respectable but they are
>>very Euroecntric and in my opinion very wrong. I believe, and have argued
>>in a couple of books, that Europe had no advantage whatever, actual or
>>potential, over other Eastern Hemisphere civilizations before the Conquest
>>of America. The Conquest led to the looting and mining of precious metals
>>in an amount that may have doubled the quantity in circulation in the Old
>>World as a whole during the 16th century. This is not a monetraist
>>argument: specie was a product, and holding such a huge quantity of this
>>product allowed European burghers to buy out the landlord class and begin
>>to ruin competition on the coasts of Africa and Asia. Soon came further
>>huge profits from the slave trade and slave plantations. (As early as 1600
>>the value of sugar exported from Brazil was double the value of all exports
>>from England in that year.) And generalizing: the wealth from colonialism
>>led to the rise of capitalism, the rise of Europe, and eventually the
>>industrial revolution. (Why did Europeans and not Asians or Africans
>>conquer the Americas? Location, location, location.) The essence of this
>>argument is a denial that Europe had, actually or potentially,
>>psychologically or culturally or environmentally, any advantage over
>>non-Europe at the close of the Middle Ages.
>>



March 15, 1998

Re:
>>
>>"I don't know what I think of all the issues in the interaction of the
>>first British Empire, the British state, and British industrialization.
>>Thus I find myself somewhat frustrated when Landes quotes Stanley Engerman
>>and Barbara Solow that 'It would be hard to claim that [Britain's Caribbean
>>Empire was] either necessary or sufficient for an Industrial Revolution,
>>and equally hard to deny that [it] affected its magnitude and timing,' and
>>then says 'That's about it.' I want to know Landes's judgment about how
>>much. Everything affects everything else, and when economic historians have
>>an advantage over others it is because they know how to count things--and
>>thus how to use arithmetic to make judgments of relative importance."
>>
>>I assume that Landes is here quoting Solow and Engerman on the matter of
>>the significance which the Caribbean colonies, the slave plantations, the
>>slave trade, and the triangular trade(s) had for the industrial revolution
>>in Britain. Yes, a lot of counting is involved. And a number of economic
>>and other, lesser, sorts of historians -- even a humble geographer or two
>>-- have argued that all of this was absolutely central to the industrial
>>rervolution. Brad doubtless is funning us here.

No. I'm not.

The point is that Engerman and Solow are still very far away from 
the kind of quantitative assessment of causes and effects that I would like to see. I don't want to hear them say that the influence was "substantial"; instead, I want the kind of quantitative assessment of influence that, say, Fishlow, Fogel, and Coatsworth did for North American railroads; or that I do in my classes when asked to assess the effect of the Reagan tax cuts on American economic growth...

I am eager to believe whatever they tell me--they are good, and this 
is their area. 


Here's a sketch of what I would like to see someone do--although much 
better: 

Around 1850 textiles--predominantly cotton--were roughly 1/4 of a British 
manufacturing sector that was some 30% of total *marketed* economic 
production. In this textile sector, roughly 1/3 of the cost of final 
output was the cost of raw materials--chiefly cotton. That means that 
Britain was spending some 2% of GDP each year importing cotton from 
the U.S. south.

What if the U.S. south had not been there? Or if it had been 
free-soil territory with a much lower rate of exploitation, and 
thus a much higher cost of production of cotton? 

Suppose that the absence of slavery in the U.S. south had doubled 
the cost of cotton to British mills, as industrializing Britain 
had had to draw on Indian, Egyptian, and non-slave U.S. sources of supply. 

This doubling of costs would have shrunk real net economic product 
in Britain by some 2%. If the pattern of consumption had been 
maintained, this cut would have come entirely out of investment--
and would have reduced the pace of growth of the pre-Civil War 
British economy by some 0.3% per year (cumulating to perhaps 
15% over fifty years). If the cut had come proportionately 
out of investment and consumption, the reduction in growth 
would have been only 1/4 as large (cumulating to perhaps 4% o
ver fifty years).

In an era in which British standards of living and levels of 
productivity are growing at roughly 1/2 a percent per year, 
the availability of slavery in the U.S. cotton south was thus 
responsible for between 15 and 60 percent of British aggregate 
economic growth before the Civil War.


If someone would flesh out this kind of social-surplus and 
dynamic-investment calculations--and narrow the bounds of 
the back-of-the-envelope calculation above--then I would 
know what to think, at least about slavery and *nineteenth* 
century industrial growth.

But to date, if it's out there I haven't seen it...


Brad DeLong



March 15, 1998

James Blaut writes, apropos of:
>>
>>"And yet China's technological lead--impressive in printing in the
>>thirteenth century, impressive in shipbuilding in the fifteenth century,
>>impressive in porcelain-making in the seventeenth century--turned into an
>>enormous technological deficit in those same centuries that China's
>>pre-industrial population quadrupled."
>>
>>What "deficit?" In those centuries nobody else was doing much
>>technologically, either.
>>

Lace
Oil paintings
Escapement mechanisms
Screws
Triggers
Alarm clocks
Movable type
Concave lenses
Closed-eye needles
Astrolabes
Etching
Wallpaper
Cork
Pencils
Microscopes
Thermometers
Logarithms
Telescopes
Lathes
Mercator projections
Slide rules
Umbrellas
Flintlocks
Champagne
Sextants
Universal joints
Vacuum pumps
Omnibuses
Clarinets
Steam pumps
Pocket watches
Megaphones
Steam pumps
Orreries
Pianos


Brad DeLong



March 23, 1998

>From:   Eric Martin, Northeastern University
>        emartin@lynx.dac.neu.edu
>
>
>>From: Brad DeLong, UC Berkeley
>>                delong@ECON.BERKELEY.EDU
>>
>>Second, that the leading edge of technological advance had shifted from
>>China to Europe well before the conquest of the Americas. Counting
>>inventions from my very nice _Smithsonian Visual Timeline of Inventions_:
>>
>>
>>Years           China   India   Europe  Islam   Indonesia       America
>>
>>501-1000          9       1       3       2         1             0
>>1001-1400         3       0      11       1         0             0
>>1401-1600         0       0      22       0         0             0
>>1601-1800         0       0      52       0         0             1
>>
>>
>>Something big and interesting in technology and innovation was already
>>happening in Europe centuries before the conquest of the Americas...
>
>
>It also sounds like something 'big and interesting' is happening in the
>construction of this timeline of inventions.

Perhaps you would care to put forward an alternative count of 
inventions and inventive activity?

Do you really think the Smithsonian Institution is part of a 
hegemonic plot to poison the stream of intellectual discourse 
with "Eurocentrism"? 

Last I heard the Smithsonian was being beaten up on (by nearly 
everybody) for its attempt to have a Hiroshima exhibit and (by 
Simon Schama and others) for its exhibit on U.S. western expansion.



March 23, 1998

>From:   James Blaut, University of Illinois - Chicago
>        70671.2032@compuserve.com
>
>
>Moreover: which of the innovations on your list was a diffusion from
>non-Europe? And wouldn't it be true that a list of Asian technological
>innovations in the 13th-17th centuries would be longer and even more
>impressive?

I would very much like to see such a list. As I said before, China 
from 1300 to 1800 is a civilization undergoing an enormous demographic 
and--in a sense--technological expansion: where did the technologies 
and investments so that China could feed three times as many people 
in 1800 (albeit badly) as in 1300 come from, and what were they?

And how are we to reconcile the apparent stagnation of "elite" 
technology--military technology, astronomical and time measurement 
technology, and so forth--with what must have been a powerful wave 
of experimentation and adaptation at the rice-paddy level?

It's the fact that China's population grew so fast during a time usually 
classified as one of technological stagnation that makes me slightly unsure whether my beliefs are in fact correct...

Brad DeLong



March 23, 1998

>From:   James Blaut, University of Illinois - Chicago
>        70671.2032@compuserve.com
>I should have been more specific: the 13th through 15th centuries.
>
>You then supply a little list of technological innovations, presumably for
>the whole of the 500-year period. Good debating tactic, but it doesn't say
>anything about the issue here: technology in Europe before the early-modern
>period -- before the post-Conquest era.
>
Touche...

>
>There were, indeed, technological advances in the late Middle Ages in
>Europe, but their significance is in the eye of the beholder.
>

Yes. You can look at pre-1500 European inventions, and say that they are 
made up primarily of (a) ways to kill more people, (b) mechanisms--
clockwork and so forth--of dubious utility, and (c) toys and trinkets. 
I agree that most of the truly interesting stuff comes later--and that 
if you combine Chinese and Indian textiles and porcelain with the fleets 
of Cheng Ho, you have a very very hard time pointing to any big 
European technological edge over the rest of Eurasia in 1500 save 
for their superior ability to kill people (although not *that* 
much of a military edge: enough to dominate Eurasian seas, but 
not Eurasian lands).

Was the spurt of inventive activity in western Europe in the 
sixteenth and seventeenth century catalyzed by the conquest 
of the Americas--did that produce enough gold and silver to 
change patterns of consumption and demand and so lead to a further 
spurt of innovation and invention?

Maybe...

But I'm inclined to think not because the gold and silver went (in the sixteenth century) to the wrong people: the innovation-fearing sword-bearing and book-burning armies of the counterreformation...



March 23, 1998

>From:   James Blaut, University of Illinois - Chicago
>        70671.2032@compuserve.com
>
>
>Brad:
>
>A gentle rejoinder to your first message:
>
>" The argument that it was the conquest of the Americas that made all the
>difference is tempting. But I have always thought that two points count
>heavily against it:
>
>"First, that the Portuguese established maritime dominance over the Indian
>Ocean and Indonesia before the conquest of the Americas had a chance to
>affect anything..."
>
>The profits from Portuguese trade in Asia, in the 16th century, were in no
>way comparable to the huge (and earlier) profits obtained in the Americas
>in tht century. (See e.g. Magalhaes-Godinho, *L'economie de l'empire
>Portugues..*) Moreover, a vitl factor in, perhaps the key to the Portuguese
>trade was the use of American gold and silver, most of it transshipped from
>(simplifying) Seville to Lisbon, although the Portuguese did get some gold
>in Africa. The point is that the Portuguese had almost nothing to offer the
>Asian markets except gold and silver.

Correct. I should have remembered this. Jan de Vries has lectured me on 
it at great length...

Say, rather, that the conquest of the Americas gave Iberians the ability 
to import lots of commodities from Asia.



March 25, 1998

>From:   John A. Betterly, Emma Willard School
>        jbetterl@emma.troy.ny.us
>
>
>It is hard to believe that this debate about technology is happening.
>Technology is "techniques" - practices or tools or both used to do tasks.
>Techniques change with the tasks to be performed. Are we going to have a
>debate about what culture is the most "artistically advanced" on the basis
>of counting innovations in colors, dyes, forms, etc.? Is it really so
>crucial to our vanities that we consider the "West" to be
>"technologically dominant?" When necessary tasks change rapidly,
>techniques must change rapidly as well. If a flood makes you build a boat,
>it doesn't mean you are particularly advanced.

If you don't know how to build a boat--if you don't have the 
"technology"--and a flood comes, you drown...



March 26, 1998

>From:   Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
>        stevem@faculty.unipissing.ca
>
>
>Brad DeLong wrote:
>
>> Yes. You can look at pre-1500 European inventions, and say that they are
>> made up primarily of (a) ways to kill more people, b)mechanisms --
>> clockwork and so forth -- of dubious utility, and (c) toys and trinkets.
>
>But the fact that clockwork became widespread in European society
>(granted, over a long period) is seen by some scholars as part of the
>necessary background to the Industrial Revolution, esp. the
>breakthroughs in mechanizing spinning and weaving.
>

Yes. David Landes certainly thinks so. And this leads him off into the Keith Thomas area--religion and the decline of magic, the "disenchantment of the world," the belief that nature is *regular* and worth dominating, and so forth as part of a mentalite that had a unique elective affinity for industrialization.

I'm skeptical. I tend to think that where the institutions and incentives 
are right, the mentalites tend to follow... 

>> Was the spurt of inventive activity in western Europe in the sixteenth
>> and seventeenth century catalyzed by the conquest of the Americas--did
>> that produce enough gold and silver to change patterns of consumption and
>> demand and so lead to a further spurt of innovation and invention?
>>
>> Maybe...
>>
>> But I'm inclined to think not because the gold and silver went (in the
>> sixteenth century) to the wrong people: the innovation-fearing
>> sword-bearing and book-burning armies of the counterreformation...
>
>However, lots of that gold and silver was immediately re-exported to the
>commercially and productively advanced Netherlands, which helped to
>develop that area even further.

Good point...

Brad DeLong



March 26, 1998

>From:   Ken Pomeranz, University of California - Irvine
>        klpomera@uci.edu
>
>
>
>Life expectancies at age 1 in the parts of China for which we have data are
>generally higher than those for Continental Europe even as late as 1800,
>and (depending on how you tweak Wrigley and Schofield's numbers) may even
>match those for England at that date; they certainly still match it ca.
>1750...
>
>Moreover, if one takes the years 1550-1850 (which should favor Europe more
>than a  comparison starting ca. 1300, and which also gets us away from some
>very poor data) the Chinese population grew at roughly the same rate as
>Europe's, while all the samples we have so far suggest that the Chinese
>birth rate was significantly lower (about which more later); with
>emigration from both places too small to matter over most of this period,
>this suggests that Chinese death rates were _lower_ than European ones.
>
This is very, very interesting...
>
>Now granted, life expectancy is not the same as standard of living, 
>
But it is hard to imagine pre-industrial circumstances under which it is 
not highly correlated, no? (Especially if one starts at age 1 and 
ignores post-partum infanticide.)



April 15, 1998

>From:   Rene Berendse, Leiden University
>        barandse@coombs.anu.edu.au
>
>        And in particular I would tend to defend Max Weber (and not the
>`Weberians') against the charges made against him. The charge that Weber
>was `Eurocentric' seems to me to be rather directed against his US acolytes
>like Parsons and Bendix and in particular against `modernisation theory'
>which, of course, invoked Weber but is not really Weber's theory.
>
>        For - and this is I think the problem - according to
>modernisation-theory (which, of course, is a typical theory of the
>Eisenhower-years in the US and its atmosophere of smug conformity)
>rationalisation and capitalism are intrinsically good things.
>
Aren't they good things? They tend to bring antibiotics, low infant 
mortality, central heating, relatively tall heights at adulthood, 
and long life expectancies.

By contrast, what was the life expectancy of pre-1700 Australian 
aborgines? 25?
20?

Brad DeLong



April 19, 1998

Steven Harvey, University of New Mexico  harvey@unm.edu wrote:

>There are positive and negative attributes to
>the rationalization of society. I won't list them here (the literature on
>both is abundant: For negative, "the Frankfurt school" sums up much of the
>argument

You mean that if we try to grow crops that have a greater yield, 
or try to figure out how to arrange things so that half our 
babies don't die before they turn five, then we will all turn into Nazis?

Nonsense. 

I see no evidence that the number of Nazi-like people has been 
greater in the twentieth century than in, say, the thirteenth--
which saw the career of Genghis Khan and that marvelous order 
by the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amalric after the capture of Beziers 
that his soldiers should "Kill them all! God will recognize those 
who belong to him!"

Technology is truly neutral. It magnifies human powers of action for 
good *and* for evil. If you think that on balance humans have more 
good than evil in them, you should think that technological progress 
is a good bet. If you think that on balance humans have more evil 
than good in them... well, you probably have already committed suicide...


>anthropological literature on the high rates of leisure in
>primitive societies adds a bit to it. 

Interesting that few of us--who could make enough money to purchase 
the material goods consumed by an Australian Aborigine or one of the 
!Kung in a month of temping as a secretary--choose to follow such a 
leisure-intensive lifestyle...
 

Brad DeLong



April 19, 1998

>From:   Mark Douglas Whitaker, University of Wisconsin - Madison
>        mrkdwhit@wallet.com
>
>        The phrase was 'intrinsically good things.' Certainly nothing is
>intrinsically good, and that thinking so is only a handy diversionary
>discourse...


Barrington Moore wrote a nice book called _Reflections on the Causes 
of Human Misery_, which I commend to you. I should have written that 
some things are good as long as you wish to be part of a moral 
community of humans aimed at mutual benefit and the avoidance of misery.

Of course, nothing can convince you that it is good to try to 
avoid human misery if you do not want to be convinced. And nothing 
can convince you that you wish to be part of a moral community if 
you don't want to join.


Brad DeLong




April 25, 1998

Jones_M@netcomuk.co.uk wrote:

>
>
> In general, DeLong's views about indigenous ways of life as
>revealed on this list are tendentious and ill-informed enough to
>be almost offensive...

What, by the way, does "...almost offensive" mean?

Pre-industrial societies had very high levels of infant mortality, 
short lifespans, bad teeth, low levels of literacy, and (at least 
after the invention of agriculture) bad nutrition. Levels of 
material comfort were low. We are better off.

At least, we are better off if you think that reducing hunger,  
reducing infant mortality, and increasing literacy are good things.

I find it strange that anyone would think that being for low infant 
mortality, long lifespans, regular brushing of teeth, and general 
literacy would reflect a "tendentious and ill-informed" view 
"about indigenous forms of life." 

I find it even stranger that someone would use the *internet* for 
God's sake to claim that "the content of mathematical descriptions 
of the world... are themselves highly socially derivative." 

Our e-mail works because the "content of mathematical descriptions of 
the world" used by the engineers in our telecommunications and computing 
industries closely corresponds to reality. Mr. Jones appears to pretend 
that the content of our mathematical descriptions of the world would 
change--and thus that our e-mail would stop working--if we were to 
adopt the mores and social organization of, say, the Pomo.



April 25, 1998

>From:   Mark Whitaker, University of Wisconsin-Madison
>        mrkdwhit@wallet.com
>
>(Responding to Brad DeLong, April 22):
>
>
>        This one has probably been the most violent century of all human
>history, and it was/is more than just the Nazi's did the killing.
>

Good point. (In fact, less than 1/3 of the killing, if you believe Rudy 
Rummel.)

But how about in proportion to the population? I think the twentieth 
century has a higher kill-ratio than the nineteenth (even with the N
apoleonic Wars and the Tai-Ping Rebellion), but how about the 
sixteenth century (where it depends on how much you think the 
crash of Amerindian populations was genocide and how much was 
microbes)? And how about the thirteenth: Genghis Khan and company.

I think that, worldwide, the thirteenth century may have seen the 
greatest proportion of the human population meet a violent death at 
the hands of those whom we call "the state": thugs-with-spears then, 
thugs-with-guns (or Zyklon B) now.

>I would posit that your line of arguments for the neutrality of
>technology is in error. 

My use of "neutrality" was a mistake. "Neutral" means "no effect." 
What I should have said was "massive, mixed good and bad effects--and 
I can't sort out a balance."

>        What generally occurs in technological production is a great deal of
>attempting to control how the technology is viewed. General Motor's
>president in the 1920's, Alfred Sloan, said he saw his role as "not for
>basic transportation, but for progress in comfort, convenience, and style."
>The way that this comfort and style were accomplished was though cars which
>used tetraethyl gasoline, classified at the time as an industrial toxin.
>What occurred, like so much of technological production within capitalism,
>is that the chemical was subsequently redefined as benign.despite wide
>public and scientific horror, and governmental health outcry. General
>Motors, which enjoyed an interlocking directorship with the DuPont
>Corporation at the time, made a deal with Standard Oil to produce the
>tetraethyl lead. 

Do you have estimates of deaths caused/life-years lost through 
atmospheric lead poisoning? I've been looking for aggregate 
estimates for a couple of years...

> One-sided portrayals of technology as neutral are conceivably more
>"Nazi-like" than those who are voicing their concern, 

My my...

>There is much research which says that attitudes and behavior are
>not  correlated, like you are insinuating above. It's a mistake to observe
>action and think that tells you anything about desired intent. In addition,
>I had no idea that we had ever been prepared socially to make such a choice,
>much less had it offered to us.  It's only a fair critique if people had the
>ability to choose, and generally we don't. 

But I believe that we *do* have the ability to choose. Ten weeks of 
work at McDonalds would give any of us the purchasing power to obtain 
twice the median material standard of living of India today--and India 
today is, compared to pre-industrial post-neolithic revolution 
societies--quite a materially wealthy one.

We do not choose the high-leisure route. "Full-time work" has 
fallen from about 2400-3000 hours per year in the middle of 
the nineteenth century to perhaps 1800 hours per year today, 
but it has not fallen much further.

Now you can follow the conventional economist's perspective, and say 
that people have revealed that they prefer the high material 
consumption, high work-time lifestyle; or you can follow, say, 
Richard Easterlin, and conclude that relative income is all that 
matters and that we are stuck on a pointless treadmill.

But to deny that people today seem to bargain much more aggressively 
for higher wages than they bargain for shorter hours and longer 
vacations is, in my view at least, to close your eyes to a lot of 
what is going on around us.


Brad DeLong



April 25, 1998

>From:   Nikolai Rozov, Novosibirsk State University
>        rozov@nsu.ru
>
>
>(Responding to Brad DeLong, April 22):
>
>Just one case from recent history and some considerations on
>morality and rationality in w-history.
>
>> You mean that if we try to grow crops that have a greater yield, or try
>> to figure out how to arrange things so that half our babies don't die
>> before they turn five, then we will all turn into Nazis?
>>
>> Nonsense.
>
>Some decades ago  international philanthropic programmes
>in Africa led namely to encrease of crops and radical decrease of
>babies mortality. as far as i know the main result was very
>rapid demographical growth that very soon has exhausted maximal
>carring capacity of soil and led to grand overpopulation,
>further epidemias, disasters, hunger, and misery, maybe more cruel
>than previous homeostasis supported by high babies mortality.
>

Not yet. 

Hopefully never. 

If we as a species can push the populations of Africa, Southern Asia, 
and Latin America over the hump of the demographic transition--teach 
girls to read, provide easy access to birth control technology, 
establish stable social insurance systems, give people every reason 
to believe that your long-run lineage and material interests are 
better served by having a few well-educated than many poorly-educated 
children. 

If we as a species can push ourselves over the hump, world 
population may stabilize in the middle of the next century at 
12 to 15 billion at a relatively high material standard of 
living, and the Horsemen of the Malthusian Apocalypse may not reappear.

If we don't push ourselves over the hump, then you are right...


Brad DeLong



April 27, 1998

>From:   Carter Findley, Ohio State University
>        arit1@netone.com.tr
>
>
>(Responding to Brad DeLong, April 22):
>
>> I see no evidence that the number of Nazi-like people has been greater in
>> the twentieth century than in, say, the thirteenth--
>
>
>The number of people (good or bad) has been bigger in the twentieth
>century--by far.

Very true. I should have said "relative number of Nazi-like people..."








May 11, 1997

Ken Pomeranz came through Berkeley earlier today, giving a very, very 
impressive show on "Re-Thinking the Late Imperial Chinese Economy: 
Development, Disaggregation, and Decline in the 18th and 19th Centuries."

If you have a seminar budget, invite him. I haven't heard a more 
interesting economic history talk this year...

Among other things, he has convinced me that I won't be able to 
stay in this business ten more years unless I can discourse as 
learnedly on comparative patterns of economic growth *within* 
China (and India too) as well as I can discourse on patterns 
within Europe or across the Americas.

So I have started memorizing the list of Chinese regions: Manchuria, 
North China, Northwest China, Xinjiang, Tibet, Upper Yangtse, Middle 
Yangtse, Lower Yangtse, Southeast Coast... uh-oh... Greater 
Guangdong, and... uh-oh again... Greater Yunnan.


Brad DeLong



May 14, 1997

Re:

>Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 15:09:57 -0500
>From: Gunder Frank <agfrank@chass.utoronto.ca>
>To: eh.res@eh.net
>Subject: EH.R: Ken Pomeranz
>Message-ID: <1.5.4.32.19980512200957.0069b31c@lark.cc.ukans.edu>
>
>================= EH.RES POSTING =================
>many congratulations and best wishes to Brad for beginning to see the
>light, which alas is not very compatible with Brad's 'defense' of David
>Landes' book and his own theses in the ensuing debate -- which i have just
>continued with my posting on the Landes book, in which I apologize for not
>adding that Ken is the best guy and thing on that [non-Landes] wavelength.
>But Dear Brad, Ken does not limit himself to 'comparisons'. He also makes
>connections. I hope yuu will too.
>
>Andre Gunder Frank                       
>University of Toronto                        
>


Most of what I might have written has already been written--very 
well--by Alan Taylor.

I do, however, find it interesting to look back and reflect upon 
my own thoughts on western Europe compared to Chinese patterns of 
development...

I suppose that my first image--acquired while taking Social Studies 
10, which because of its concentration on *theory* leaves one with 
a somewhat shaky empirical foundation corresponding to the state 
of historical knowledge about 1870--was that of Max Weber: that 
the key to understanding why and when the industrial revolution 
took place was to grasp the peculiar means-ends instrumental 
rationality of Protestant northern Europe, that this peculiar 
cultural complex was closely tied up with religions and values, 
and that as a result Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist Asia had no 
chance at all of successfully industrializing for centuries. 
This--Weberian--point of view has been decisively proven wrong 
by East Asian industrialization since 1950.

I think that my second image--acquired after reading a little too 
much of Hannah Arendt and Karl Wittfogel--was that of South and 
East Asia as dominated by water-monopoly empires that are 
fundamentally hostile to change (which may disrupt the power 
of landlord and priestly elites) and that in their control over 
agrarian infrastructure have the power to make their hostility 
to change effective. You can see this position too as essentially 
Weberian--although the key here is the independence of the 
European city rather than the Protestant Ethic. And I still 
find myself believing (say, two days a week) that there was 
something very special about the Medieval Commune and what 
it developed into, and that this did play a major role in 
bringing us to where we are today.

My third image was that constructed by Ernst Gellner and John A. 
Hall--I think of _Plough, Sword, and Book_, of _Powers and Liberties_, 
and of _Liberalism_. Their image of pre-industrial societies--of 
Agraria--is of societies in which warrior-princes, priests, and 
landlords all conspire to keep the peasants ignorant, barefoot, 
pregnant, and over taxed; to keep the urban merchants in constant 
fear of losing their fortunes, their businesses, and their lives; 
and in which technological advance is quickly abandoned either 
because the inventors have become rich and no longer wish to be 
corrupted by contact with production and toil, or because cheap 
and unfree labor forces leave those with power with no incentive 
to maintain and operate technology. In their view, the natural 
state of post-Neolithic Revolution humanity is somewhere between 
Merovingian Gaul and the Moghul Gangetic Plain, and that only 
a true miracle allowed our escape from Agraria's trap. I find 
myself believing their story, but also believing that they have 
vastly overstated the power of warrior, priest, and landlord 
elites to control historical developments.

My fourth image was one I drew from Joel Mokyr's _Lever of Riches_: 
it is of Chinese and Indian civilizations that are progressive, 
dynamic, technologically and demographically expansionary up until about 1400 or so. But then circumstances--foreign conquest, Ming ideology, whatever--create a profound hostility to further change, transform the ruling class into a purely parasitic ruling class, and set both India and China on the track toward the semi-Malthusian subsistence-level near-catastrophe that they reached in the nineteenth century.

Now Ken Pomeranz's work (and not his alone) is transforming my 
image of South and East Asian civilizations once again--but I do 
not yet have a clear picture of just what it was that blocked 
what is now Greater Shanghai (or Greater Canton, or Greater Tokyo, 
or Greater Mumbai, or Greater Calcutta) from becoming the locus 
of an advanced commercial economy on the brink of an industrial 
revolution in the sense of Greater London, Greater Paris, and 
Greater Amsterdam.

Jim Blaut has an answer (which is, I think, the same as Eric Jones's 
answer in the _European Miracle: although Blaut talks in terms of 
pillage, murder, and extortion and Jones in terms of "ghost acreage" 
they are referring to the same phenomena). But I look at the size of 
the Dutch herring fleet compared to the VOC, and at the profits of 
the English wool industry compared to the fortunes of Robert Clive 
and Warren Hastings, and I find myself still thinking that long-distance 
trade is too small to bear the burden and that more is to be learned 
from trying to think hard about the internal dynamics...


Brad DeLong 


May 14, 1997

Re:
>
>Date: Thu, 14 May 1998 09:43:58 -0500
>From: "jack a. goldstone" <jagoldstone@ucdavis.edu>
>There is emerging what I like to call the "California"
>school or interpretation of global economic history.  This has been
>developed in good part by scholars in California, and holds that there
>were NO significant long-term advantages enjoyed by Europe over the main
>centers of civilization in Asia; that the level of technology, science,
>agriculture, and living standards were similar in these regions from 1000
>to 1800 AD, with Europe lagging if anything until nearly the end of this
>period; and that even the dynamics of political and social structures and
>conflicts in Asia and Europe were essentially similar from 1500 to 1850.

Living standards and agriculture I can buy. And "Technology" is 
complex: are we talking rice seedlings, porcelain, or printing 
presses? Yet the slope of European technological progress in the 
second millennium is very impressive. By 1700 where outside of 
Europe are the equivalents of the eyeglasses? The astrolabes? 
The microscopes? The logarithmic tables? The lathes? The slide 
rules? The high-volume printing presses? The telescopes? The 
escapement clocks? The grenades? The--advanced--cannon? 

It is certainly true that eyeglasses, logarithms, screw-cutting 
lathes, and printing presses churning out volumes by Erasmus 
don't mean beans (directly) for sugar or cotton consumption 
in the Rhine or Thames delta (and that grenades and cannon 
tend to make life a lot more nasty, brutal, and short). But 
they mean a lot in terms of laying the groundwork for further 
developments.

And science? 1800 is more than a century and a quarter past Newton. 

And politics? Where is the William the Silent of Asia? Where 
is Magna Carta? Where are the self-governing cities of Asia? 
Listen to only a few speeches from Mahathir Muhammed or Lee 
Kuan Yu and you can't help but be struck by the difference 
between their belief that rulers command and people obey and 
the ideas that governments are instituted not to give rulers 
the style of life to which they want to be accustomed but to 
secure the people's natural rights,and that they derive their 
just powers from the consent of the governed.

And as Alan Taylor eloquently pointed out, to reduce the 
European Miracle from a ten-century to a two-century affair 
makes understanding and accounting for it much, much harder...


Brad DeLong


May 16, 1998

Re Andre Gunder Frank's
>
>I fully agree with Taylor and others that circa 1800 represents a
>disjuncture, and that it remains to be explained by me and others.  

I find myself worried that we might be about to fall into what I 
think of as the Rostow strap. A generation ago W.W. Rostow knew 
that the industrial revolution was important, and concluded that 
it must have shown itself in a rapid jump in economy-wide 
productivity levels and rates of economic growth.

It didn't.

Even large structural changes in a small sector have--initially--little 
effect on economy-wide averages.

Today I think that we are in danger of making that mistake in reverse: 
just because we can see no large productivity differentials at the 
level of the economy as a whole between, say, southern France and Lingnan (:-) I'm learning) in the eighteenth century doesn't mean that the differences in technology, economic structure, ideology, politics, and culture weren't important...


Brad DeLong


May 16, 1998

Re: From: Gunder Frank <agfrank@chass.utoronto.ca>
>
>Thank You One and All for your interest, attention, consideration and
>patience with me. A family medical emergency is the real reason and David
>Landes' absence the official excuse for the tardiness of this my first
>general response and the delay till still later of my detailed reply.

I hope that everyone involved is better--or at least recovering.
>
>
>Under title 3 below, I then append MY OWN ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION as a
>somewhat longer but still excessively short summary extract from my book
>ReORIENT. Of course, that is intended as a challenge to others to join in
>to the still outstanding task of constructing a holistic real world or
>really holistic global/world embracing explanation, in which Ken Pomeranz
>is also engaged, but alas David Landes is not [yet?].

I think that David Landes's treatment of non-European Eurasia and 
North Africa is probably wrong in two different dimensions, but 
let me concentrate only on the first. The first is Landes's belief 
that climate near the equator somehow militates against first 
commercial development and second industrialization. The second 
is his overly-static picture of the agrarian civilizations of 
temperate-zone Asia.

Landes wants to argue that because tropical climates are hot and 
disease-ridden, that human productivity there is low, hence no 
civilization can ever amass the surplus above biological 
subsistence necessary to set out on the road that eventually 
leads to industrialization. 

The problem is that Landes is also a follower of the tradition of 
M.M. Postan (as am I) --that before the industrial revolution it 
is probably informative and insightful to try to analyze human 
civilizations from the perspective of ecologico-cultural 
equilibrium. When living standards are relatively high, birth 
rates are high and death rates are low; when living standards 
are relatively low birth rates are low and death rates are high 
(or, rather, variable). This means that if technological progress 
is sufficiently slow (and before the industrial revolution it was 
"sufficiently slow" always and everywhere), then a civilization's 
population density will within several generations adjust itself 
to resources and technologies in such a way that keeps living 
standards oscillating around the civilization's set-point of 
rough population balance.

Thus in the long-run of a century or so, a civilization's living 
standards are determined not by its summer temperature or by the 
prevalence of pinworms, but by its ecological and cultural practices 
that determine its set-point. A civilization like northwest Europe 
can have a relatively high set-point if culture delays marriage 
until the male member of the couple has a farm or a secure place. 
A civilization like that of the Yangtse delta as described by 
Ken Pomeranz can have a relatively high set-point if heads of 
lineage restrict their younger siblings fertility . A civilization 
like that of Poland can have a relatively low set-point if the 
second serfdom turns large proportions of the population into 
landless laborers with no incentive to delay nuptuality or 
diminish fertility. A civilization like that of the Yellow 
River valley can have a relatively low set-point if senior 
members' control over lineage juniors breaks down.

As a result, I think that Landes's argument that regions near the equator 
were always extremely unlikely places for commercial and industrial 
revolutions is deeply flawed. Hot summers and the consequent difficulty 
of hard summer work might keep Ceylon from having the pre-industrial population density of the Rhine delta (or the Yangtse delta), but I don't think that they have any implications for pre-industrial average living standards. If you wanted to rescue Landes's argument about climate, I think you would have to identify a line of causation running from location near the equator to some particular set of ecologico-cultural practices that leads to a relatively low living-standard set-point...


Brad DeLong


May 16, 1998

Re:
>
>From: Gunder Frank <agfrank@chass.utoronto.ca>
>Subject: gunder frank net response # 1 (fwd)
>To: H-NET List for World History <H-WORLD@H-NET.MSU.edu>
>
>- Western Europe and particularly Britain were hard put to compete
>especially with India and China. Europe was still dependent on India for
>cotton textiles and on China for ceramics and silks that Europe re-exported
>and from which it profited in its [economic and/or political] colonies in
>Africa and the Americas. Moreover, Europe remained dependent on its
>colonies for most of the money it needed to pay for these imports, both for
>re-export and for its own consumption and other use, eg, as inputs for its
>own production and export. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
>centuries, there was a decline in the marginal if not also the absolute
>inflow of precious metals and other profits through the slave trade and
>plantations from the European colonies in Africa and the Americas. To
>recoup and even to maintain - never mind to increase - its [world and even
>domestic] market share Europeans collectively and its entrepreneurs
>individually had to attempt to increase their penetration of at least some
>markets, and to do so either by eliminating competition
>politically/militarily or by undercutting it by lowering its own costs of
>production, or both.


I have often wondered whether late seventeenth, eighteenth, and early 
nineteenth century European perceptions that labor was cheap in the O
rient might not have been consequences of American silver and the 
price revolution: wages were low in the Orient, but subsistence was 
cheap as well. Large nominal wage differentials (large enough to make 
China and India super-competitive with Europe as producers of cotton 
textiles, ceramics, and silks) are perfectly consistent with relatively 
equal real wages and living standards, with a higher nominal price 
level in Europe, and with a consequent flood of specie out of Europe 
to Asia. (And, later, a flood of EOC opium out of India to China.)


Brad DeLong



May 16, 1998

Re:
>
>From: Gunder Frank <agfrank@chass.utoronto.ca>
>Subject: gunder frank net response # 1 (fwd)
>To: H-NET List for World History <H-WORLD@H-NET.MSU.edu>
>
>In short, changing world demographic/ economic/ ecological circumstances
>suddenly - and for most people including Adam Smith unexpectedly - made a
>number of related investments  economically rational and profitable: in
>machinery and processes that saved labor input per unit of output, thus
>increasing the productivity and use of labor and its total output;
>increasing productive power generation; and increasingly productive
>employment and productivity of capital.  This transformation of the
>productive process was initially concentrated in selected industrial,
>agricultural, and service sectors in those parts of the world economy whose
>comparative competitive POSITION made -- and then continually re-made --
>such Newly Industrializing Economies [NIE] import substituting and export
>promoting measures economically rational and politically possible. 

A point for Gunder Frank is the failure of the industrial revolution to 
take root first in the Netherlands. It seems as though the Dutch had 
better--more productive and more value-adding--things to do than to 
monkey with steam engines and put workers who could be adding lots 
of value on the Amsterdam docks to work watching early spinning machines.

Or so I read Jan de Vries and Adrian van der Woude's [? the book is in 
the office] argument in their _The First Modern Economy_.


Brad DeLong



May 18, 1998

Re:
>
>In general, there
>has been no eco-equilibrium in human settled populations during the present
>Interglacial, ie, the agrarian period. The entire period has been
>characterised by secular growth trends in population and productivity. So
>what is the evidence for the existence of 'set-points' which in any case
>are moving targets? 

The targets move very, very slowly, however, until 1700 or so...

>So the qualitative change which the IR represents was
>only an inflection in a long-term underlying trend; and it's too early in
>any case to argue that we've escaped the Malthusian trap :)

Agreed.....
>
>The argument for the effects of American silver and the European price
>revolution, in altering the balance of input and especially labour costs
>between Europe and Asia is more compelling. The real catalyst of change
>however was the mobilisation of fossil fuels, which also of course explains
>why Britain and Belgian has an IR and the Dutch didn't. Belgium and Britain
>had coal. Holland did not.

Cheap to float the coal downstream from Belgium into the Rhine 
delta--but Dutch labor costs were too high for it to be profitable to use it in factories (which is another way of saying that Dutch workers had higher-productivity things to do).

But I should stop talking about Holland or else I will say something 
wrong and be very embarrassed when Jan de Vries returns from  England...

Brad DeLong





May 18, 1998

>From:   Ken Pomeranz, University of California - Irvine
>        klpomera@uci.edu
>
>   The question of promoting technological change (in part by encouraging
>science) seems like the best case for a slowly maturing Western European
>advantage -- Margaret Jacob's work on the culture of science in Britain,
>for instance, makes a lot of sense to me. But even here, we are talking
>about a post-1500 development, not a post-1000 one.  

I think you are probably right...

>Moreover, we should remember that
>Europe was not ahead in all important areas, even as late as 1800 -- and
>that which technological advantages turned out to be crucial and which
>relatively unimportant depended on a lot of things.  Thus, Europe remained
>relatively backward in agricultural yields per acre even in 1800 (though
>the potato was helping it close some of that gap) -- and that particular
>bit of backwardness might have mattered a lot more had it not been for 
>[what Eric Jones called "ghost acreage."

I find myself wanting a *relatively* *detailed* technological balance 
sheet for Northwestern Europe vs. Yangtse Delta China in 1400, 1600, 
and 1800. My problem is that I'm not competent to construct the "China" 
side of it...

>By contrast, virtually all
>of China's coal was hundreds of land-locked miles from the markets and
>artisanal talents of the Lower Yangzi, Lingnan, and Southeast Coast.
>Moreover, the problem in these mines was not water that needed to be
>pumped out, but, on the contrary, such severe aridity that explosions were
>happening all the time.  

So you can't build a steam economy until you already have your railroads 
built...

Brad DeLong





May 18, 1998

Re:

>From: b.pavier@bilk.ac.uk
>Subject: A Discussion of World History - Landes Review
>
>contrary to 'common-sense' assumptions of a large part of the
>academic community, the future does really lie with old Karl Marx and
>Fred Engels. 

One problem with Charlie and Fred is that they mistook the birth pangs of 
capitalism for its death throws, and (<advertisement> as George Boyer 
argues very persuasively in what is going to be a very nice piece in 
the fall 1998 _Journal of Economic Perspectives_ </advertisement>) 
mistook Manchester during the Hungry Fourties for the future of 
the world...

The fact that they misread *their* *own* time so much makes me uneasy at 
applying their model to this question...

>
>Secondly there is the instance of Muhammad Ali in Egypt. This ruler
>attempted to modernise the Egyptian state and economy in the first
>four decades of the C19 and to turn his state in the dominant one in
>West Asia. The events of the period, and the response of the major
>capitalist powers, especially Britain, clearly indicate that this was
>a viable aspiration, and they then moved to crush the Egyptian
>imperialist state.

You won't be surprised to know that Landes disagrees--and has an 
extended discussion of Muhammad Ali (Mehmet Ali?) in _Wealth and 
Poverty of Nations_. In a thumbnail, Landes thinks that Mehmet Ali 
made a mistake in building *factories* instead of *schools* and 
honest *judges*...



May 18, 1998

Re: Ken Pomeranz
>
Finally, we get to exploiting other parts of the world, at which
>Europeans clearly did excel.  Clearly, this story cannot be reduced to
>"Europeans were nastier, or better at being nasty,"

But they were pretty nasty. Is it an accident that the two greatest 
mass-murderers in human history--Hitler and Stalin--were born in Europe?

(Although Mao may ultimately win the prize, depending on how large 
the Great Leap Forward famine was and whether one regards it as 
genocide or just an "accident".)


Brad DeLong



May 18, 1998 Re:
>
>From: Dr Rene Barendse <barandse@coombs.anu.edu.au>
>
>
>
>In fact, I think it was precisely because of the predominance of the
>military/landed groups within the administration of the Company after
>Cornwallis that the British were able to build up a coalition with Indian
>elites, since their military/fiscal idiom was very familiar to the latter.
>So, it was not the British elites did not understand the Indian elites the
>two understood each other very well - talking a common idiom of nobility
>and landed wealth which they largely shared.
>

A very interesting insight...

Brad DeLong

 

 


Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans
University of California at Berkeley; Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/

 

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