- India, Modernity and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.) by Kaveh Yazdani, and: The Industrial Revolution: The State, Knowledge and Global Trade by William J. Ashworth, and: Globalization and the Colonial Origins of the Great Divergence: Intercontinental Trade and Living Standards in the Dutch East India Company's Commercial Empire, c. 1600–1800 by Pim De Zwart
The Rise of the West and Other Stories
Why some countries grow rich before others do, is a question that has been discussed almost from the time modern economic growth began in the mid-nineteenth century, "modern" economic growth being a process driven by productivity gains rather than by the accumulation of resources. Standard answers to this question differed according to the emphasis laid upon market-integration, cultural attributes of societies, or political factors, citing Adam Smith, Max Weber, or Karl Marx in the process. The crucial evidence to test these theories came from Europe and was usually speculative about regions outside Europe. There was a broad agreement that Europe possessed efficient markets, entrepreneurial cultures, and market-friendly states before industrialization ushered in modern economic growth, whereas societies in Asia and Africa did not. In the mid-twentieth century, neo-Marxist writers challenged this Eurocentric view by saying that Europe grew rich by exploiting the rest of the world. But to many, this position was as Eurocentric as the one it criticized.
Two things happened around 2000 that changed the discourse. First, Kenneth Pomeranz published his famous book The Great Divergence, which showed that just before industrialization began, advanced regions in Europe and East Asia showed "surprising similarities" in economic conditions.1 The book did two things at once, it shifted attention to non-European regions, and questioned the idea that economic growth had [End Page 280] roots in exceptional European traditions. Second, economists looking for causes of economic growth moved into history. Many of them were inspired by the intellectual movement known as new institutional economic history.2 They were aided in this endeavor by Angus Maddison's huge cross-country dataset on average income by country over several centuries.3 The most influential contributions in this field retained, even reinforced, the idea that economic growth did have roots in European tradition, especially in institutions like laws of property and contract, adding that the transmission of these institutions worldwide faced barriers of a political nature. These two propositions, that there were "surprising similarities," and that Europe made exceptional strides in institutions, did not fit, giving rise to a debate. Better known as the great divergence debate, this exchange has formed the stem of world economic history in recent years.
Whether Europe was different or not, the debate shifted attention to the "early modern," roughly the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries, when differences, if any, would have begun to take shape. During these centuries, several processes that would play a large role in world inequality later, such as colonization, expansion of trade, expansion of states, warfare, and the framing of laws, started. That raised the question, if indeed world regions were already different then, were they different because of how these processes began?
Between 2000 and 2010, a series of innovative research projects tried to resolve the conflict between surprising similarities and exceptionality. While an earlier crop joined the debate directly, more recent works in the field reflect the debate in a different way. For example, almost all recent contributions on the origins of economic growth try to incorporate the early-modern into an explanation of what made the world more unequal in the nineteenth century; regional comparisons cannot afford to be Eurocentric anymore; and mining data for non-European regions is now...