The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

by Kenneth Pomeranz

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The Great Divergence brings new insight to one of the classic questions of history: Why did sustained industrial growth begin in Northwest Europe, despite surprising similarities between advanced areas of Europe and East Asia? As Ken Pomeranz shows, as recently as 1750, parallels between these two parts of the world were very high in life expectancy, consumption, product and factor markets, and the strategies of households. Perhaps most surprisingly, Pomeranz demonstrates that the Chinese and Japanese cores were no worse off ecologically than Western Europe. Core areas throughout the eighteenth-century Old World faced comparable local shortages of land-intensive products, shortages that were only partly resolved by trade.

Pomeranz argues that Europe's nineteenth-century divergence from the Old World owes much to the fortunate location of coal, which substituted for timber. This made Europe's failure to use its land intensively much less of a problem, while allowing growth in energy-intensive industries. Another crucial difference that he notes has to do with trade. Fortuitous global conjunctures made the Americas a greater source of needed primary products for Europe than any Asian periphery. This allowed Northwest Europe to grow dramatically in population, specialize further in manufactures, and remove labor from the land, using increased imports rather than maximizing yields. Together, coal and the New World allowed Europe to grow along resource-intensive, labor-saving paths.

Meanwhile, Asia hit a cul-de-sac. Although the East Asian hinterlands boomed after 1750, both in population and in manufacturing, this growth prevented these peripheral regions from exporting vital resources to the cloth-producing Yangzi Delta. As a result, growth in the core of East Asia's economy essentially stopped, and what growth did exist was forced along labor-intensive, resource-saving paths--paths Europe could have been forced down, too, had it not been for favorable resource stocks from underground and overseas.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400823499
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/01/2009
Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World , #28
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 569,049
File size: 615 KB

About the Author

Kenneth Pomeranz is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. He is author of The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society, and Economy in Inland North China, 1853-1937, which won the John King Fairbank Prize from the American Historical Association, and coauthor (with Steven Topik) of The World that Trade Created.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION Comparisons, Connections, and Narratives of European Economic Development 3
Variations on the Eurppe-Centered Story: Demography. Ecology, and Accumulation 10
Other Europe-Centered Stories: Markets, Firms, and Institutions 14
Problems with the Europe-Centered Stories 16
Building a More Inclusive Story 17
Comparisons, Connections, and the Structure of the Argument 24
A Note on Geographic Coverage 25
ONE Europe before Asia? Population, Capital Accumulation, and Technology in Explanations of European Development 31
Agriculture, Transport, and Livestock Capital 32
Living Longer? Living Better? 36
Birthrates 40
Accumulation? 42
What about Technology? 43
TWO Market Economies in Europe and Asia 69
Land Markets and Restrictions on Land Use in China and Western Europe 70
Labor Systems 80
Migration, Markets, and Institutions 82
Markets for Farm Products 86
Rural Industry and Sideline Activities 86
Family Labor in China and Europe: "Involution" and the "Industrious Revolution" 91
Conclusion to Part 1: Multiple Cores and Shared Constraints in the Early Modem World Economy 107
THREE Luxury Consumption and the Rise of Capitalism 114
More and Less Ordinary Luxuries 114
Everyday Luxuries and Popular Consumption in Early Modem Europe and Asia 116
Consumer Durables and the "Objectification of Luxury 127
Exotic Goods and the Velocity of Fashion: Global Conjuncture and the Appearance of Culturally Based Economic Difference 152
Luxury Demand, Social Systems, and Capitalist Firms 162
Visible Hands: Firm Structure, Sociopolitical Structure and "Capitalism" in Europe and Asia 166
Overseas Extraction and Capital Accumulation: The Williams Thesis Revisited 186
The Importance of the Obvious: Luxury Demand, Capitalism, and New World Colonization 189
Interstate Competition, Violence, and State Systems: How They Didn't Matter and How They Did 194
Conclusion to Part 2: The Significance of Similarities and of Differences 206
FIVE Shared Constraints: Ecological Strain in Western Europe and East Asia 211
Deforestation and Soil Depletion in China: Some Comparisons with Europe 225
Trading for Resources with Old World Peripheries: Common Patterns and Limits of Smithian Solutions to Quasi-Malthusian Problems 242
SIX Abolishing the Land Constraint: The Americas as a New Kind of Periphery 264
Another New World, Another Windfall: Precious Metals 269
Some Measurements of Ecological Relief: Britain in the Age of the Industrial Revolution 274
Comparisons and Calculations: What Do the Numbers Mean? 279
Beyond and Besides the Numbers 281
Into an Industrial World 283
Last Comparisons: Labor Intensity, Resources, and Industrial "Growing Up" 285
Appendix A Comparative Estimates of Land Transport Capacity per Person: Germany and North India, circa 1800 301
Appendix B Estimates of Manure Applied to North China and European Farms in the Late Eighteenth Century, and a Comparison of Resulting Nitrogen Fluxes 303
Appendix C Forest Cover and Fuel-Supply Estimates for France, Lingnan, and a Portion of North China, 1700-1850 307
Appendix D Estimates of "Ghost Acreage" Provided by Various Imports to Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Britain 313
Appendix E Estimates of Earning Power of Rural Textile Workers in the Lower Yangzi Region of China, 1750-1840 316
Appendix F Estimates of Cotton and Silk Production, Lower Yangzi and China as a Whole, 1750 and Later--With Comparisons to United Kingdom, France, and Germany 327

What People are Saying About This


This is an outstanding book, painstaking and devastating in its attack on received wisdom, supported by a wealth of solid evidence and elegant argument.
Jack A. Goldstone, University of California, Davis

Jack A. Goldstone

This is an outstanding book, painstaking and devastating in its attack on received wisdom, supported by a wealth of solid evidence and elegant argument.

Deirdre McClosky

Pomeranz uses that European invention—economics—to overturn Eurocentrism, establishing beyond cavil a New Fact in our world. Never again will Europeans imagine they stood alone in the doorway of economic growth. Pomeranz and his colleagues in the new sinology have reintroduced the Central Kingdom and its stunning historical sources, and Pomeranz has written the one essential book.
Deirdre McClosky, University of Iowa

Joel Mokyr

A truly magisterial effort based on an immense knowledge of the field, a vast amount of reading, and on close and careful analysis, informed by both social science and history.
Joel Mokyr, Northwestern University


Pomeranz uses a mixture of institutional forces and technological/geological luck to explain how an economic and ecological 'tie game' suddenly became a victory for western Europe over China. He combines global imagination with the scientific detail needed to make his points hold firm. The Great Divergence should command widespread respect.
Peter H. Lindert, University of California, Davis

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Great Divergence : China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Book Award Committee of the World History Association is pleased to announce that this book is co-winner of its 2001 prize, along with John McNeill's Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World. Jurors praised both books with words like brilliant, superb, tour de force, and 'a classic.' The prize will be presented at the June meeting of the WHA in Salt Lake City. Congratulations for an outstanding contribution to 'history from a global perspective.'