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China's Advocate: A Review of Ken Pomeranz's The Great Divergence

-- Bradford DeLong (, May 04, 2000


I enjoyed the review on Pomeranz. And I read almost everything you put on the H-Diplo and H- War lists.

-- ???? (, May 04, 2000.

My teaching of the history of Islamic Civilization has impressed me by the near-collapse of regions with a long history of economic and cultural importance -- notably Persia, but Egypt's not a bad example, either.

You talk about cultural or institutional coherence. What about China?

-- Steve Muhlberger (, May 04, 2000.

De Long reviewed Pomeranz's _The Great Divergence_ recently on EH.RES, and at .

The question put forth is why European countries quickly industrialized, when the rest of Eurasia did not.

Diamond presented a unification argument: that China, due to lack of geographic barriers, has been far more politically centralized than Europe, and hence risk-averse political choices could stunt growth.

I'm not sure that explains India, though: my impression is that the British were able to expand throughout the subcontinent so easily because it was as fragmented as Europe. One would think that the British would have even been a great argument for industrialization; the superiority of European troops should have spurred the native princes to an industrialization program such as the Prussian.

Perhaps the answer lies more in an argument which Stewart has made here on FoRK: labor saving is a process which feeds upon itself. If Europe was not in conditions as Malthusian as China or India (and the Black Death and a few religious wars may have gone a long way towards keeping it out of them), then there would have been an impetus to find ways to increase labor productivity, but such increase not only threw people out of old work, but also created new work in which they could engage. "The capitalist devil..."


Jacobs had a related thesis in _The Economy of Cities_; her view of city growth was that it involved a continuous development in which a city gradually changes the goods it exports, as well as those which it imports. Contributed by (

-- Dave Long (, May 04, 2000.

In a message dated 4/13/00 1:29:53 AM, writes:

<< Perhaps the answer lies more in an argument which Stewart has made here on FoRK: labor saving is a process which feeds upon itself. >>

quoting Fernand Braudel, who knoew far more about thisthan I ever would. Basically he says that all thetechnology for industrialization of the textile industry existed in India (along with the designs--the Brits copies them, which were highly fashionable) but labor was so cheap it didn't pay to replace them by machines; likewise there are stories of Chinese irrigating fields by hand rather than using pumps, again labor being so common that it seemed immoral to substitute for it, which would have taken food from a ricewinner's family. It's all in, I think, The Perspecitive of the World, which is the third volume of his history of capitalism, and I think toward the end of that volume. (I've just narrowed your search from 3000 pages to about 300.)

-- Tom (, May 04, 2000.

I enjoyed your review of Pomeranz in Aside from being extremely erudite and thoughtful, you're right, I'd say -- it's not New World resources that matter. Politics, and a culture of scientific innovation, are crucial; although I'd say the distinctively powerful empirical science only arises in the 17th century, and only in Britain. Other scientific advances are either "catch-up" with the Arab world or China, or to a degree that most people underestimate, peter out or are suppressed. In a series of recent papers, I argue that it was science and technology, PLUS coal, PLUS an open and entrepreneurial society (Temin) that had to converge to produce the IR as it happened. All three elements were crucial, and the combination was found nowhere outside of UK.

I sympathize with your desire to have something better than Wallerstein or Goody to give students, and Ken's book is good on the "what" of the divergence, if weaker on the "why."

Maybe one of these [my] papers will work better for students (plus they're not book length). The first opens the question of the traditional narrative by pointing to "The Problem of the 'Early Modern' World." (This appeared in the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient in 1998). The second asks more pointedly: "The Rise of the West -- or Not?" This essay is forthcoming in Sociological Theory, and takes off from Landes, Frank, Pomeranz, Wong, Flynn, and others who I think are developing a new approach.

Finally -- and perhaps the most fun -- is an essay for a forthcoming volume on counterfactuals in historical argument, edited at OSU by your former Berkeley colleague Phil Tetlock. Supposing that William III fails in his invasion of England, and that James II stays in power, it examines the consequences for the Royal Society, empirical science, the industrial revolution, democracy, and finds remarkable changes .....

-- Jack Goldstone (, May 04, 2000.

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