China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy

Cosma Shalizi reviews The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy by Kenneth Pomeranz:

Spk_pomeranz_founders06One of the central questions in world history is, to put it a bit leadingly, “Why Europe, of all places?” That is, why did the Industrial Revolution begin there, leading Europe to a level of power, wealth, and global domination quite without precedent in human experience? This is inevitably a comparative question: why nineteenth century Europe, rather than one of the other centers of civilization? Why not Song-dynasty China? And also: why anyplace at all?

Pomeranz’s book is one of the most interesting, and in large measure convincing, attempts to answer this question, by focusing very specifically on north-west Europe, especially Great Britain, and comparing it intensively and symmetrically with other, comparably-developed parts of the Old World. The key claim, and perhaps the most controversial, is that it is very hard indeed to identify any internal, socio-economic causes of or dispositions towards exponential growth in the Britain, the Dutch Republic, etc. of 1750, or even 1800, which did not equally apply to comparably-sized and -developed parts of China (like the Yangzi Delta) or Japan; India, he thinks, really was further behind.

More here.  [Photo shows Kenneth Pomeranz.]