|rik in kaapstad
- april 2010
Rik is inmiddels verhuisd, de studie is het derde jaar
ingegaan en hij verplaatst zich inmiddels met een scooter door Kaapstad.
De vorige afleveringen:
The Great Divergence
The academic discussion on the great divergence often focuses on the two peripheral large economies of the Eurasian continent; the European (North) Western nations as compared to China. This essay will do the same.
It is generally accepted that the differences between the separate economic zones within the Eurasian continent differed less than the Eurasian continent as a whole as compared to the continents of Africa, Australasia and the Americas. The Eurasian continent has been observed to be the most economically advanced during the pre-Columbian era on almost all counts.
The general explanations for this Massive Divergence between Eurasia (including North Africa) and the rest of the earth's economies is most convincingly explained by factors of geography, the most convincing of which, analyzed by Diamond and others, will be briefly outlined below. Given this evidence, it is not necessary to assume that similar geographic factors, including climate and natural resource endowment, have caused the Great Divergence between Europe and the rest of Asia, but it does mean that a comprehensive explanation of this divergence needs to take geography very seriously into account.
Moreover, the hypothesis that serious demographic differences between China and Europe, the Malthusian explanation, had a very significant impact on economic development seems to be debunked by empirical evidence as interpreted by Lavely and Wong ___ and others. The general assumption that China's universal marriage system would have resulted in a positive check system where Malthusian crises could only be contained by natural disasters and famine is undermined by the evidence that female infanticide and delayed inter-marriage fertility had a more prominent, preventative effect on population dynamics___. Furthermore, a number of the famines and disasters do not correspond as neatly with immense population density extremes___; geography in many cases can be attributed as the underlying causal factor. This essay will mainly focus on geography and its relevance to the Great Divergence.
Diamond recognized two very advantageous basic geographical benefits which befell the Eurasian continent. Firstly, the East-West axis which defines the outline of Eurasia allows for an easy spread of human capital, knowledge and flora and fauna ___. Secondly, the endowments of animals and plants which were very suited to domestication ___. This lead to high population densities, which in turn resulted in specialization, division of labor and in long-term high resistance of the Eurasian populations to infectious diseases ___.
The true overall power of these benefits is evident only after Europe's specialized explorers encountered the Americas, where their superior immune systems, weaponry and methods of transportation manage to overpower the isolated, less developed native American empires ___.
However, this does not explain, firstly, why European, and not Chinese, armadas discovered the New World and reaped the benefits, and secondly, it does not directly explain why Britain was so successful in direct confrontation with China two centuries later, as at first glance, it is reasonable to assume that both ends of the super-continent benefited from these same general advantages.
This leads many modern "world-historians", including Pomeranz to believe
that the Chinese economy was as developed as Europe until as late as 1800,
as opposed to other estimates of the origins of the Great Divergence around
1500. ___ . In order to understand not just whether geography was important,
but also what aspects of it were most important, and the extent of the
impact, this academic discussion also needs to be taken into consideration.
A possible, although perhaps far-fetched, European geographical advantage
is proposed by David Cosandey. His book, seeking to explain the industrial
as well as the intellectual revolution in Europe, stresses two geographical
features, the one not very original, and quite plausible advantage being
those natural factors such as rivers and mountain ranges which made Europe
more likely to consist of separate warring states, causing national
Darwinism through political competition, an effect generally thought to
breed innovation ___.
His other point is dubbed "The Coastline Shape Hypothesis", where a highly mathematical analysis of the shores of Western Europe, India and China are provided which indicate that the anomalously high fractal dimensions of Western European shores were uniquely beneficial for seafaring, leading to more trade, conquest and exploratory expeditions, which in turn brought back knowledge as well as prosperity, and allowed for a more diffuse scientific culture ___.
One important fact which can be derived from the second hypothesis is
probably that one can go too far in attributing geographical facets as
underlying causes of economic miracles. As is widely documented, and covered
in detail by Boorstin ___, China sent out armadas for tributary and trade
relations along most of the Indian ocean's Western coasts, including
Southern Africa and Arabia, and all accounts agree that the Chinese fleet
excelled both in size and technology when compared to that of European
nations, even when compared to ships built hundreds of years later in the
then most advanced nautical states of Europe ___.
This is the view that many Late Great Divergence historians like to take.
Pomeranz in particular argues against the view that diffusion of knowledge
was faster, innovation more frequent and structural economic factors
developed more consistently in Western Europe. He claims that China just had
different types of food, political systems and innovations, and that Europe,
and Britain in particular, got lucky because of strategically placed coal
deposits, which favoured the development of the steam engine and other
related inventions which fuelled the Industrial revolution and were the real
cause of the Great Divergence ___.
In that sense, Cosandey's point about the maritime and riverine
conditions of Western Europe echoes the most interesting contribution of
Adam Smith on the matter. Although his perception of the Chinese state as
grossly underdeveloped and containing a dirt poor underclass has been shown
by revisionist historians to be based on false anecdotal evidence ___,
particularly about the standards of living of the peasants, his views need
not entirely be ignored.
Thus when it comes to the way in which geography influenced the Great
Divergence, there is the view that many of the major geographical
differences which are said to predetermine the geopolitical, nautical and
agricultural differences, and indirectly the scientific and technological
ones, were not necessarily important, because the two economies were
different qualitatively, but not quantitatively, and that the real
geographical differences were the coal deposits and easier access to the
In conclusion, it is likely that several geographical features of Europe set it apart from China some time before 1800. It is unlikely that the Chinese would have advanced along the same path, had they been a little more lucky, as Pomeranz, and, to an extent, Landes argue, although luck in resource endowments has been a major advantage to Europe as well.
Smith, A., The Wealth of Nations (New York, 2000), pp. 3-23
Pomeranz, K., The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000)
Boorstin, D. The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself
Broadberry, S. and Gupta, B., The early modern great divergence: wages, prices and economic development in Europe and Asia, 1500–1800 Economic History Review, LIX, 1 (2006), pp. 2–31
Cosandey, D. The Secret of the West
Lavely, W. and Bin Wong, R., Revising the Malthusian Narrative: The Comparative Study of Population Dynamics in Late Imperial China, Journal of Asian Studies 57:3 (1998) pp. 714-748
(Rik Moors, Kaapstad, maart 2010)