Why the West? I do not think there is any other historical controversy that has so enthralled the public intellectuals of our age.  The popularity of the question can probably be traced to Western unease with a rising China and the ease with which the issue can be used as proxy war for the much larger contest between Western liberals who embrace multiculturalism and conservatives who champion the West's 'unique' heritage.

A few months ago I suggested that many of these debates that surround the "Great Divergence" are  based on a flawed premise--or rather, a flawed question. As I wrote: 

"Rather than focus on why Europe diverged from the rest in 1800 we should be asking why the North Sea diverged from the rest in 1000." [1]
I made this judgement based off of data from Angus Maddison's Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD and the subsequent updates to Mr. Maddison's data set by the scholars who contribute to the Maddison Project.

As far as 1,000 year economic projections go this data was pretty good. But it was not perfect. In many cases--especially with the Chinese data--it was simply based on estimates and extrapolations from other eras. A more accurate view of the past would require further research.

That research has now been done. The economic historian Stephen Broadberry explains:
As it turns out, medieval and early modern European and Asian nations were much more literate and numerate than is often thought. They left behind a wealth of data in documents such as government accounts, customs accounts, poll tax returns, Parish registers, city records, trading company records, hospital and educational establishment records, manorial accounts, probate inventories, farm accounts, tithe files. With a national accounting framework and careful cross-checking, it is possible to reconstruct population and GDP back to the medieval period. The picture that emerges is of reversals of fortune within both Europe and Asia, as well as between the two continents. [2]
Drawing on a multiple specialized studies, Mr. Broadberry is able to create a table that is more accurate than the one I used earlier:


Taken from Stephen Broadberry. "Accounting for the Great Divergence." voxEU.org. 16 November 2013.

There are a few things here worth commenting on.

The greatest difference between Mr. Maddison and Mr. Broadberry's numbers concern China. Maddison's Chinese only experienced "extensive growth" -- that is to say, the total GDP of China increased over time, but the wealth available to the average Chinese peasant did not change. China's wealth increased because it had more people, not because these people were getting richer.

Broadberry's data presents a more nuanced picture. In it we can clearly see the economic "efflorescence" of China's medieval economic revolution and the wealth that came with the mid-Ming economic reforms. In many of these periods the average Chinese man was more wealthy than his European counterpart. China was far from stagnant for 1,000 years. 

But it also never had sustained economic growth. As happened across the premodern world, successful dynasts would establish a system that allowed commerce to flourish, urban centers to grow, and wealth to increase. In the words of Jack Goldstone, these societies would undergo an economic "efflorescence" that historians of later days would remember as a Golden Age [3]. These Golden Ages would not last. After a few centuries these societies would push agrarian civilization to its limits and contraction would begin.

This process is seen quite clearly in the Chinese data. The decline in GDP per capita between 1600 and 1750 hides the fairly impressive economic achievements of the early Qing: despite a fourfold (!) increase in population, Chinese living standards remained on par with most of Europe, even though most of this expansion was happening in unproductive, virgin lands far away from China's traditional urban centers while expensive levies were continually raised to pay for one war after another. [4] Alas, this type of efflorescence could not endure; as the centuries passed the condition of the Chinese peasant plummeted. It is sobering to realize that the average Chinese of 1000 was twice as rich as his descendents were 850 years later.

Broadberry's data for Western Europe and India are very similar to the data sets compiled by Maddison and company. In both data sets India's GDP per capita starts at a fairly low point and then falls over the centuries. By 1200 Western Europe has a GDP per capita higher than most parts of the world, but (with two exceptions ) by 1500 this number stops increasing. In both data sets the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the 'West' begins its more famous split from 'the rest.'

There is an important difference between Madison's and Broadberry's data sets, however. Madison worked in 500 year intervals. Broadberry's sources are much more specific. With his data we can pin point the beginning of this 'little divergence' with greater detail. In 1348 Holland's GDP per capita was $876. England's was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland's jumps to $1,245 and England's to 1090. The North Sea's revolutionary divergence started at this time. 

Acknowledging this leaves us with a different set of questions than the ones that animate the traditional "Why the West?" debates. It forces us to look past industrialization and colonization and pay attention to deeper changes of earlier eras. Broadberry's short analysis tries to do just that. I encourage you to read it. I do not agree entirely with his explanation - but he, at least, is trying to answer the right questions.





-------------------------------------------------------------


[1] T. Greer. "The Rise of the West: Asking the Right Questions." The Scholar's Stage. 7 July 2013.

[2] Stephen Broadberry. "Accounting for the Great Divergence." voxEU.org. 16 November 2013.

[3]  Jack A. Goldstone. "Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History: Rethinking the "Rise of the West" and the Industrial Revolution." Journal of World History. vol 13, issue 2 (2002). 323-389.

[4] ibid., 339-353.

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47 comments

Therapsid  

Old news, but it's still striking to me how Spain only got a modest return in GDP per capita from the conquests of the 16th century and that it vanished by 1650. It didn't even take it back to the peak level of the reconquista. Spain's economic growth looks more like what China experienced a century prior under the Ming, than it does anything in early modern England or Holland.

November 21, 2013 at 5:41 AM

It's hard to visualise the path the countries are following through (time, GDP per capita, population) three-dimensional space. A video like the one Hans Rosling uses for more recent international development (see, for instance, his TED talks from a few years back) would probably give a lot more insight. A pity only the intensive values are tabulated - extensive growth can matter too.

November 21, 2013 at 7:44 PM

@David - The original post. looks at some of the extensive data. It also explains why I consider the intensive growth metrics to be more important.

The Maddison Project also has a fairly comprehensive data set for total GDP, even if some of its numbers may be outdated.

November 22, 2013 at 2:11 AM

@Therapsid - There was a reason for that.

See also Angus Maddison's concise explanation for why the New Spain imperial project did not do much for the Spanish economy as a whole.

November 22, 2013 at 2:18 AM
H. Michiels  

Well, there is no denying that much of the revisionism and junk history lately comes from universities based in Mexifornia and Londonistan, areas which are themselves quickly losing their ethnic, religious and moral character and have become internationalized zones (read: de-westernized). This can hardly be all coincidence, but rather the ideological superstructure seems increasingly eager to follow the ethnic base - to keep in line with the language of academic marxism. Also, never underestimate the willingness of the Western mind to undermine its own foundations, this unchecked masochism IS one of those unique Western traits.

Yet this all may be dismissed as an argumentum non ad rem by multiculturalists, if it were not for the fact that the entire discussion hadn't yielded one hard fact to go by so far. For every writer suggesting that Chinese GDP per capita was longer on par than previously thought, you find another one who argues that European GDP per capita diverged earlier than previously imagined.

And in all of this quantificophilia, the evident cultural, scientific and technological divergence between the West and the rest, nicely summarized as the da Vinci, Galileo and Mozart gap, haven't even been addressed. Nor will the current crop of (mostly Anglo-Amrican) macroeconomists really be qualified to pass informed judgments on this process.

So what can be expected from the entire debate than, in the best of all cases, agreement on the odd economic value? And what do these values really tell us about history and the 'ranking of the civilizations', when the Far Eastern nomads still spoil the academic exercise by defeating and conquering China and determining its history despite their lower GDP per capita and grossly smaller total GDP? Do we have to hold them responsible for not having read 21th century revisionist literature? ;-)

December 5, 2013 at 9:20 AM
Anonymous  

In the first comment Greer posted on the rise of the West a few months ago he referenced a commentary/discussion on the great divergence headed by Peter Turchin at Social Forum, which took place sometime in June 2013. Let me remind readers that a debate on the rise of the West was printed at Cliodynamics, edited by Turchin, a few months later, in which Goldstone, Beckwith, and Turchin replied to an article by Ricardo Duchesne on the Indo-Europeans and Western uniqueness. Duchesne replied here: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1h1529x6

This reply effectively shows that the key question is not the rise of the West to economic dominance, but the far higher cultural achievements of Europeans since ancient times. The exchange between Beckwith and Duchesne on the Indo-Europeans is worth reading as it relates to Duchesne's argument that Western uniqueness should be traced back to the aristocratic culture of Indo-Europeans. See also reply to Goldstone, who clearly has a very poor understanding of Western culture.

December 5, 2013 at 10:10 AM
Anonymous  

By the way, the previous post was written by me, Ricardo Duchesne, author of The Uniqueness of Western Civilization. I used "Anonymous" because of some difficulties using older identities.

Here is a passage from my reply to Goldstone, which may convey what I mean by the statement that Western uniqueness is not about the industrial revolution alone:

"Goldstone’s reply is replete with vague generalizations. I can only bring up a few examples. He says that Asian societies had a 'clear lead…in exploration, production, manufacturing, seafaring and navigation, experimental science, pluralism and toleration, lasting well into the 17th and in some respects the 18th century'. This is totally inconsistent with masses of books, articles and quantifiable data. How can one say this when it was the Europeans who had rounded Africa, set up trading ports throughout the Indian Ocean, mapped every region of the earth (Buisseret 2003), carried successive shipping and navigational improvements from the mid-1400s onwards (Unger 1981), promoted a printing revolution (Eisenstein 1980) and then a book/journal/newspaper culture , developed an experimental science with cumulative insights, established all the disciplines in science and social science we teach today, set up capitalist firms around the world, colonized the Americas and Africa, instituted the supremacy of Parliament in England and representative institutions in Europe, introduced religious tolerance, produced one continuous great philosopher after another, invented the novel (Watt 2001), every single classical composer in modern times (Schomberg 2006), a restless sequence of artistic styles, analytical geometry and algebraic logic (Gabbay and Woods)? The Asians were leaders essentially in the production of large populations and labor intensive farming techniques."

December 5, 2013 at 10:21 AM
Anonymous  

Someone here asked about Ian Morris's book, Why the West Rules; see review by Ricardo Duchesne at Reviews in History, http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1091

Morris replied, so readers can decide who fared better.

December 5, 2013 at 10:37 AM

I apologize for not getting to this thread sooner; as my most recent post states, this blog has been on temporary hiatus for a few weeks. Now I am back.


Thank you for responding here Mr. Duchesne.

I read with much interest the debate between yourself, Mr. Goldstone, Turchin, and Beckwith when it was first published in Cliodynamics. Indeed, I found the general discussion so interesting that I linked to it on this site and asked my readers to read the entire issue.

I have not read your book, so the comments that follow must be considered tentative. With that said:

1.I hesitate to paint all of European history from the time of the Indo-European incursions to the present day with one brush. There seems to be significant variation, both in geographic (how many of these great scientific inventors or philosophers hailed from Belarus?) and chronological terms. As was the case with other civilizations, cultural dynamism seems to come in spurts and cycles. See, for example, my previous (and lengthy!) comparison of the intellectual world of the Chinese Warring States era and the developments of Renaissance Europe. The similarities that mark these two periods suggest there is more here at play than Indo-European values.

Moreover—and perhaps more importantly—it seems that many of the most crucial cultural, philosophical, and especially institutional inventions relevant to this discussion were not Western inventions persay, but Anglo ones. (Or to be more fair to the Dutch – inventions of the North Sea’s Western corner). Common law, the notion of protected individual rights, the rule of law (esp. as based in foundational documents), private property, the institutions of representative government, modern banking, international trading companies, the capture of peat and fossil fuel as energy sources, and joint stock corporations were all innovations of English, Dutch, or American origin. And as discussed on the Stage before, studies in cross cultural psychology show that these countries still have a distinct set of cognitive biases and common attitudes that separate them from the rest of Europe.

Perhaps it is the uniqueness of the Anglo tradition, not the Western, that deserves to be emphasized.

December 15, 2013 at 2:32 AM

2.I am also very wary of any attempt to measure the superiority or even uniqueness of one civilization on the basis of the “invention of the novel,"* their many classical composers, or other cultural traditions of this type. Using the same logic one can easily fault Western culture for cultural stagnation. After all, it was the East Asians who invented Zuihitsu literature and produced every single classical composer of Beijing Opera in modern times!

This is why I focus on things like GDP per capita and energy consumption. These things can be empirically measured. They can be compared across cultural boundaries. They are the closest things to objective, scientific facts our field of study can provide. Subjective lists of “human achievement” or catalogues of great thinkers cannot do this. To the hard data I will stick for to forgo this data is to give up the only meaningful, universal measuring stick we have for the tasks at hand. The multiculturalists would love this, of course, for then the game would be up. But this is not a project I will abandon for the sake of their sensitive political opinions.


More importantly, things like GDP per capita and energy consumption have another serious advantage no number of plays, paintings, or scientific treatises can provide: these measures allow us to assess the state of society as a whole. The intellectuals of the premodern age were a world removed from the peasants and soldiers who actually built and maintained the urban centers of their privileged elites. It was on their backs civilizations flourished and fell. We can argue all day whether Aquinas was more intellectually accomplished than Zhu Xi, but this does not change the fact that the vast majority of the people born to either civilization would not recognize the name of either man.

Intellectuals, their ideas, and the institutions these ideas make have changed the course of history. I do not dispute Mr. Keynes’ claim: “practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” But how much of an effect have they had? The only way to find this out is to return where we started out: to the hard data. When we turn to the data designed to measure every day lives the North Sea again stands out from the rest. The true divergence is not between the West and the rest, but between the English, the Dutch, and everyone else.

To restate the question in a different matter: If we could wind the clock back to the 15th century and pick up random men off their farms from across the world, what would we find? We might be surprised to realize that the average standard of living of a peasant in Poland or southern Italy was closer to that of the average Chinese peasant than to the standard of living of the average Englishman! This is an extraordinary fact that Indo-European culture alone fails to explain.

P.S. Have you ever encountered the work of Emmanuel Todd? Many of the thoughts presented here build on his explanation for Europe’s unique path. I find his explanations very compelling; as someone who has a clear mastery of European history and its intellectual tradition, your thoughts on his argument would be worth reading.



*In any case "the invention of the novel" strikes me as particularly poor example, for it was independently invented in China just a century or two after the form first appeared in the West.

December 15, 2013 at 2:38 AM

Damn. from the point of view of Polish guy, this is quite frustrating: up to 1580 we had lower GDP per capita, but only somewhat lower (910 per capita in 1580). And then a hundred-years long collapse (530 in 1660, 540 in 1710). From my point of view, the question is WHY economy of my home country collapsed and then stagnated for more than hundred years, while devastated Germany could somehow rebuilt its economy.

December 15, 2013 at 9:04 AM

Economics is a fascinating thing to study, as is culture, but I would say that both of you are leaving out a crucial part of the "West vs. the Rest" debate. It was not Beethoven or British textile manufacturers that conquered 84% of the world's landmass by 1914. If Europe had not conquered from Tenochtitlan to Beijing we would probably not be talking at all about European greatness or uniqueness.

Just to head off what I know will be the response, economic history can only go so far to explain military history. As much as Paul Kennedy would like to say that these two things are joined at the hip, the relationship is much more vague when it comes to this time period. Nearly every single one of Europe's invading forces was outnumbered in its battles at least ten to one. For instance at Assaye, Wellington commanded a force that had as many European-trained infantry, twice as many irregular infantry, and four times his cavalry. At nearly every land battle in India, Britain was out-manned and/or outgunned. I like to think it was European drill and discipline, and the development of the soldier that helped Europe win in the end.

December 15, 2013 at 10:18 AM

*http://www.cfr.org/afghanistan/evolution-irregular-war/p30087

%84 statistic

December 15, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Anonymous  

Here is a passage from my reply to Goldstone, which may convey what I mean by the statement that Western uniqueness is not about the industrial revolution alone:

I don't think that anyone disputes that Western uniqueness is not about the industrial revolution alone. The reason there is a focus on economic growth and science and engineering is that they are relatively more objective fields for comparison than the arts and humanistic fields are. Economic growth, science, and engineering can be measured against a neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities cannot.

I like Charles Murray and his book Human Accomplishment, but I agreed with Beckwith's criticism of your citing of that book in Cliodynamics. I don't see how Murray's book can be a very objective measure for cross-cultural comparison, especially outside pure science and technology.

December 15, 2013 at 11:08 PM

@Szopeno-

I will not speak of what I do not know, and I am afraid my knowledge of Polish history is paltry at best. It is an interesting question, but I have no insights to bring to it.

If other readers have thoughts on this question, I would be glad to here them.


@Daniel-

I think we must distinguish here between causes of success and measurements of it. I have used intensive economic growth as hard and objective measuring stick with which different societies can be compared. But I do not think, esp. in the pre-industrial period, that economic growth itself was the main cause of civilizational success. Rising GDP per capita (and the rising standards of living that came along with it) were the fruits, not the engine.

Military techniques (be they logistic, strategic, or technological) are a possible explanation. But for it (or any other innovation that historians might use to answer our query) to be recognized as one of the underlying causes it must meet the following criteria:

1) The development or innovation that caused this 'little divergence' must have begun before 1400 AD

2) It must have had a disproportionate impact on England and the Netherlands

3) There must be a link between the development/innovation and increasing living standards of the population at large

So with this criteria in mind, what innovations in military affairs qualify?

@Anon 11:58 PM- Agreed. I have quoted Goldstone's paragraph on Human Accomplishment in other forums when people bring the book up. I agree with his critique completely.

December 16, 2013 at 9:41 AM
Anonymous  

@Anon 11:58 PM- Agreed. I have quoted Goldstone's paragraph on Human Accomplishment in other forums when people bring the book up. I agree with his critique completely.

To be clear, I was referring to Beckwith's critique in Cliodynamics. I haven't read Goldstone's piece.

December 16, 2013 at 11:38 AM

I mis-typed. It is Beckwith, not Goldstone, who gave the critique:

"any attempt to evaluate “human accomplishments across cultures, by calculating the amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference works, encyclopedias, and dictionaries” (Murray 2003, cited by Duchesne) is doomed from the outset to reflect the cultural biases and linguistic abilities of the people who have written these works and the people who have read and interpreted them. Did Murray read through the many massive literatures of non-European languages, including encyclopedias and other reference works in Chinese, in Japanese, in Tibetan, in Thai, in Burmese, in Pali, in Arabic, etc., from Antiquity to the present, and understand all of it well enough that he could “calculate the amount of space” devoted to individuals mentioned in them and compare them to ‘the space’ devoted to individuals in English, etc. works? I like the idea that Murray has attempted to do a comparison of this sort, but it seems highly unlikely that it would be possible to even attempt it without choosing the same number of sources written by native peoples from all cultures of the world that were literate by 1950 (or whatever cutoff date were chosen), and translated into the same language (known to the author) so that they would cover about the same amount of paper, etc. Without such a study, works such as Murray’s cannot really be taken seriously." (emphasis added)

-Beckwith, Christopher, "The Actual Achievements of Early Indo-Europeans, in Accurate Historical Context." Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, vol 4, issue 1.

It is a useful quotation to have on hand in this part of the blogosphere.

December 16, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Anonymous  

Reply to Greer's comment (Dec 15 at 2:32 am):

Greer writes:

"I hesitate to paint all of European history from the time of the Indo-European incursions to the present day with one brush. There seems to be significant variation, both in geographic (how many of these great scientific inventors or philosophers hailed from Belarus?) and chronological terms. As was the case with other civilizations, cultural dynamism seems to come in spurts and cycles. "

You are making a basic error in assuming that my emphasis on the unique aristocratic culture of Indo-Europeans, means that I explain all subsequent differences in terms of this initial difference. You need to read my initial article in Cliodynamics and my reply to Beckwith, and see if you have replies to it, rather than taking it as given that Beckwith is correct. Beckwith misused sources to make his arguments, as I clearly showed. You cannot trust someone who wrongfully misuses sources, attributes views to authors or paper which are mere fabrications, as he did.

Greer says:
"See, for example, my previous (and lengthy!) comparison of the intellectual world of the Chinese Warring States era and the developments of Renaissance Europe. The similarities that mark these two periods suggest there is more here at play than Indo-European values."

I never interpreted the Renaissance as an outgrowth of prehistoric IE values, that would be absurd. Again, just because one emphasizes an initiating factor in the divergence, it does not follow that one is explaining the entire course of the West's history in terms of this initiating factor. Simple logic.

Greer adds:
"Moreover—and perhaps more importantly—it seems that many of the most crucial cultural, philosophical, and especially institutional inventions relevant to this discussion were not Western inventions persay, but Anglo ones. (Or to be more fair to the Dutch – inventions of the North Sea’s Western corner). Common law, the notion of protected individual rights, the rule of law (esp. as based in foundational documents), private property, the institutions of representative government, modern banking, international trading companies, the capture of peat and fossil fuel as energy sources, and joint stock corporations were all innovations of English, Dutch, or American origin. And as discussed on the Stage before, studies in cross cultural psychology show that these countries still have a distinct set of cognitive biases and common attitudes that separate them from the rest of Europe."

You are assuming that this debate has to be about economics, which is understandable since this is what everyone is saying, and you take it as given. But, as it is, I do acknowledge in the book that England went ahead in innovations, everyone knows that. However, England was intimately connected for centuries to a wide European culture, which did not produce innovations only in the 1700s, but also major ones in the Middle Ages, Renaissance period and 1600s (in matters related to navigation, cartography and warfare), which were not exclusive to Britain but to Europe generally.

December 17, 2013 at 8:16 AM
Anonymous  

Reply to Greer (Dec 15 at 2:38 am):

Greer writes:
"I am also very wary of any attempt to measure the superiority or even uniqueness of one civilization on the basis of the “invention of the novel,"* their many classical composers, or other cultural traditions of this type. Using the same logic one can easily fault Western culture for cultural stagnation. After all, it was the East Asians who invented Zuihitsu literature and produced every single classical composer of Beijing Opera in modern times!"

Look, let's be able to make real differences: if one culture produces 100 percent of all the great classical composers, that matters in the realm of high culture. Where did you get the wrong idea that China has produced every classical composer in modern times?!

Regarding the novel, as I replied to Elvin, who is an expert on Chinese history: The word
“novel” came into use only at the end of the 18th century in England
as a transliteration of the Italian word “novella.” The roots of the novel can be traced back to
i) Spanish picaresque tales (1500s) with their strings of episodic adventures held together by the personality of the central figure; ii) Elizabethan prose fiction and the translation of ancient Greek romances into the vernacular, iii) French heroic romance (mid 17th century) with its huge baroque narratives about thinly veiled contemporaries who always acted nobly and spoke high-flown sentiments. What British novelists added in the 1700s was a more unified and plausible (down-to-earth) plot structure, with sharply individualized
and believable characters, and a less aristocratic (or more “middle
class”) style of writing. The novel, in these respects, was invented
in Europe, particularly after 1750 (Watt 2001). It was “associated
from its inception,” in the words of Roy Porter, “with individualism
and a certain political liberalism” (2000:283). England played the leading role in this genre, cultivating a new sensibility for authenticity,
personal experience and feeling, a spirit of nonconformity towards
rigid and “insincere” conventions, a fascination with the inner
depths of the affective self. Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa was one of such novels, as was Pamela and Sir Charles Grandison by the
same author; as well as Sarah Fielding’s The Adventures of David
Simple (1744), Henry Brooke’s The Fool of Quality (1765), Daniel
Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722), Oliver
Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1764), Lawrence Sterne’s
Tristram Shandy (1759–67) and A Sentimental Journey (1767),
and more popularly Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline (1788), Ethelinde
(1789), Celestina (1791), Desmond (1792), The Old Manor House
(1793), The Wandering of Warwick (1794), The Banished Man
(1794), Montalbert (1795), Marchmont (1796), and The Young Philosopher
(1798).

See here: https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/CJS/article/view/12411/9422

Greer writes:
"This is why I focus on things like GDP per capita and energy consumption. These things can be empirically measured. They can be compared across cultural boundaries. They are the closest things to objective, scientific facts our field of study can provide. Subjective lists of “human achievement” or catalogues of great thinkers cannot do this. To the hard data I will stick for to forgo this data is to give up the only meaningful, universal measuring stick we have for the tasks at hand."

Well, you really need to read my book, which has three full chapters challenging the empirical (economic) claims of revisionists. Again, you are making an error of judgment; just because I say that the rise of the West should include an assessment of cultural features rather than mere economic data, it does not follow that I don't pay attention to economic issues. My book, and other articles, address in detail the economic claims of the revisionists. Just read the chapter (3) on Pomeranz's book, and then tell me what is wrong with it. Pomeranz misuses the ideas of authors, attributes arguments to books which are not there, and so on.

December 17, 2013 at 8:50 AM
Anonymous  

Continuing my last reply to Greer:

Greer writes:
"More importantly, things like GDP per capita and energy consumption have another serious advantage no number of plays, paintings, or scientific treatises can provide: these measures allow us to assess the state of society as a whole. The intellectuals of the premodern age were a world removed from the peasants and soldiers who actually built and maintained the urban centers of their privileged elites."

OK, I can tell you are a Marxist ideologue, according to which the peasant's labor made possible the high culture of the elites, therefore we should study peasant ideas, or political economy as the "anatomy of society". The infrastructure determines the superstructure. This is not only a Marxist idea, but one generally accepted, uncritically, by economists and economic historians.

I also address this ontological question in the chapters on Weber and Hegel. One of the things revisionists find irritating about my thinking is that it is multidisciplinary, and revisionists are only economic historians, and don't know much about intellectual, artistic, philosophical history. So they just dismiss these fields of human achievement as irrelevant, not measurable the way economic facts are. Why should we ignored so much about human culture simply with the excuse that it cannot be measured? And besides there are indirect ways of measuring cultural output; for example, Europe produced a far higher number of titles than Asia, and innovations related to book production: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_books#List_of_notable_modern_innovations

"It was on their backs civilizations flourished and fell. We can argue all day whether Aquinas was more intellectually accomplished than Zhu Xi, but this does not change the fact that the vast majority of the people born to either civilization would not recognize the name of either man."

Read my review of Ian Morris, where I address the far higher intellectual originality of Europe, for each rather unoriginal Chinese thinker, there are a dozen really original European thinkers. So what if high cultural activities require peasant labor, unless your point is that we should abolish class divisions and do what the Kmer Rouge did in Cambodia as they tried to abolish the division of labor: http://www.cambodiatribunal.org/history/cambodian-history/khmer-rouge-history/

December 17, 2013 at 8:54 AM
Anonymous  

Someone here wrote (Dec 15, 11:08 pm):

" don't think that anyone disputes that Western uniqueness is not about the industrial revolution alone. The reason there is a focus on economic growth and science and engineering is that they are relatively more objective fields for comparison than the arts and humanistic fields are. Economic growth, science, and engineering can be measured against a neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities cannot."

I do focus on economic facts, and debate the revisionists directly in their own terms, dedicating over half of my 540 page book to their arguments. Now, as I said in reply to Greer, who makes the same point, which we all know,that economic data is objectively measurable. First, this fact simply means that it is more easy to measure economic data, not that non-economic data is thereby less important. It also does not mean that we have no way to measure cultural facts, as I pointed in an earlier comment, we can measure cultural vitality in terms of book output, as has been done by Buringh and Zanden in "Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries".

See here at Wiki: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:European_Output_of_Books_500%E2%80%931800.png

Commenter write:

"I like Charles Murray and his book Human Accomplishment, but I agreed with Beckwith's criticism of your citing of that book in Cliodynamics. I don't see how Murray's book can be a very objective measure for cross-cultural comparison, especially outside pure science and technology."

As I said in my book: I relied on Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment is the first statistical book (664 pages) to quantify “as facts” the
accomplishments of individuals and countries across the world, **by
calculating the amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference
works, massive encyclopedias, and multivolume dictionaries.**
Murray uses a total of 183 such sources. I explained how Murray
“avoids a Eurocentric bias by creating separate compilations for
each of ‘the giants’ in the arts of the Arab world, China, India, and Japan, as well as of the ‘giants’ of Europe.” I went on
to say: Murray recognizes that one cannot apply one uniform standard
of excellence for the diverse artistic traditions of the world.”
Murray produces combined (worldwide) inventories of ‘the giants’ for each of the natural sciences on the grounds that “it is possible to create combined lists for the natural sciences insofar as scientists themselves have come to accept the same methods and categories”
(p. 291). But he produces separate inventories for the Arts, and what he shows is that Europeans produced a substantially higher number of great works in the Arts than the Rest combined, according to the great works in the Arts listed in the sources. Now, there were less of these dictionaries, encyclopedias produced in the East, but Westerners have been pretty objective in listing great works from Asia, bending backwards, in fact, so as to be fair, in our politically correct times. The sources Murray consulted that were produced in Asia listing the greats in the Arts were not inconsistent with the sources produced in the West. If Asians produced less sources, that also goes to show that Westerners are way more advanced in producing these type of sources: references, dictionaries, encyclopedias.

December 17, 2013 at 9:33 AM
Anonymous  

Steve Sailer on Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment:

"Dead white European males dominate his inventories, despite Murray reserving eight of his 21 categories (including Arabic literature, Indian philosophy, and Chinese visual art) for non-Western arts. Murray, who was a Peace Corp volunteer in Thailand and has half-Asian children, began this project wanting to devote even more attention to Asian accomplishments but found he couldn’t justify his predisposition.

"In the sciences, 97 percent of the significant figures and events turned out to be Western. Is this merely Eurocentric bias? Of the 36 science reference books he drew upon, 28 were published after 1980, by which time historians were desperately searching for non-Westerners to praise. Only in this decade has the most advanced non-Western country, Japan, begun to win science Nobels regularly.

"The process raised many technical problems that could have biased the results, such as which works to rely upon and how many to use. Murray meticulously dealt with each issue using his mastery of statistics.

"Once assembled, his 'inventory' of 4,002 significant figures in 21 categories ... to my surprise, I can’t think of a single way to do it better than he did.

His methods and lists should become the standards for future research.

Galileo is at the top in astronomy; Darwin in biology; Newton and Einstein in physics; Pasteur in medicine; Beethoven and Mozart in Western music; and, of course, Shakespeare in Western literature. Technology, Thomas Edison and James Watt.

Others who qualified in three categories include Galileo, Leibniz, Huygens, Archimedes, and Rousseau, who was not just a philosopher and novelist but also a successful comic-opera composer. The top polymaths, showing up as significant in four categories, were Descartes and, predictably, Leonardo Da Vinci.

France is tied with Britain and Germany as the leading nation, with Italy fourth.

For example, the best single confirmation of Beethoven’s greatness might be Brahms’s explanation of why he spent decades fussing before finally unveiling his First Symphony: “You have no idea how it feels for someone like me to hear behind him the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”

According to Charle Murray:
”What the human species is today, it owes in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just half a dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass.”

December 18, 2013 at 1:06 PM
Anonymous  

Now, as I said in reply to Greer, who makes the same point, which we all know,that economic data is objectively measurable. First, this fact simply means that it is more easy to measure economic data, not that non-economic data is thereby less important. It also does not mean that we have no way to measure cultural facts, as I pointed in an earlier comment, we can measure cultural vitality in terms of book output

I never said that non-economic data is less important.

It's not simply that economic data is objectively measurable. It's that economic growth, science, and engineering are defined by measurements against a neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities aren't. It doesn't matter what compilers of "reference works, encyclopedias, and dictionaries" think about economic growth, science, and engineering. The test of economic growth, scientific theories, and technical artifacts is how they measure up against the material world, how well they predict events in the material world, how well they function and operate in the material world, etc. That is, they are tested and measured according to non-human judgment. This is not the case with the arts and humanities.

"Book output" seems more like a measure of economic output than "cultural vitality." Due to the internet, there's more "culture" being produced in a single day in terms of sheer output than was produced in longer time scales in the past. I don't think anyone believes that this means that there is more "cultural vitality" in a single day today than there was in longer time scales in the past. In fact this is the exact opposite of what Murray argues.

December 18, 2013 at 4:25 PM
Anonymous  

As I said in my book: I relied on Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment is the first statistical book (664 pages) to quantify “as facts” the
accomplishments of individuals and countries across the world, **by
calculating the amount of space allocated to these individuals in reference
works, massive encyclopedias, and multivolume dictionaries.**....


Yes, you are reiterating your original point here, but you're not addressing Beckwith's criticism regarding Murray's method and sources.

If Asians produced less sources, that also goes to show that Westerners are way more advanced in producing these type of sources: references, dictionaries, encyclopedias.

Murray isn't trying to show who produced the most "references, dictionaries, encyclopedias." That's not what he was measuring. That would be relatively trivial to measure: you just count them up. He was rather trying to use a select sample of these type of sources to measure something else.

I think you misunderstand Murray's statistical methods. He wasn't trying to count up and examine every source. He wanted a sample that he believed was authoritative and sufficient for his purposes. That's why he used a select sample of such sources, mainly American and German and English language sources.

December 18, 2013 at 4:28 PM
Anonymous  

"...That is, they are tested and measured according to non-human judgment. This is not the case with the arts and humanities."

According to non-human judgment? Sorry but the ones doing the testing are humans and they are testing human activities they deemed to be more important, which is a subjective judgment. I grant economic facts generally (but by no means always) are easier to measure, but it does not follow that other cultural activities are any less important, or that they cannot be evaluated according to other criteria including numerical ones.

What you say about book output, and about how "more culture is produced today in the internet" in one day than was produced in a longer time in the past, clearly reveals your rather pedestrian view of high culture. As I already said in my review of Morris's book, the number of **original** titles produced in Britain alone, with its far lower population, was far greater than in China in the same period of the 18C. That is a solid statistical fact, even more solid than the economic indices produced by the revisionists.

December 19, 2013 at 11:48 AM
Anonymous  

Someone wrote:

"Murray isn't trying to show who produced the most references, dictionaries, encyclopedias. That's not what he was measuring. That would be relatively trivial to measure: you just count them up. He was rather trying to use a select sample of these type of sources to measure something else."

No, Murray showed what I said, and what Steve Sailer said, and you don't have a reply except to hang on to a little statement by Beckwith, when I already suggested and Sailer that even using the sources produced by Asians about their great artistic figures, the Europeans come way on top.

Yes, the fact that Westerners have produced far higher numbers of encyclopedias, references, etc, is a another indication of their superior scholarly achievements. Here is another troublesome fact: all the disciplines taught in our universities were invented by the Europeans including the university itself --- these are solid objective facts, measurable and indisputable.

December 19, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Anonymous  

According to non-human judgment? Sorry but the ones doing the testing are humans and they are testing human activities they deemed to be more important, which is a subjective judgment.

Again, I never said that "other cultural activities are any less important."

And yes, economic growth, science, and engineering are defined by measurements against a non-subjective, neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities aren't. That's the whole point of the scientific method: employing experimentation, controls, replication, etc., to get away from subjective judgment. The subjective judgment of Marxists with respect to economics, or of the Catholic Church with respect to the position of the Earth in the cosmos, or of any other person or group of people with respect to economic growth, science, and engineering. If it disagrees with experiment and the external material world, it's wrong. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks. This, needless to say, is not the case with the arts and the humanities. And this does not mean that the arts and humanities are "less important." Some would argue this makes the arts and humanities even more important than economics, science, and engineering. All this means is that economics, science, and engineering are objective in a way that the arts and humanities are not.

I don't see how you can deny this without descending into the kind of postmodernist, Cultural Marxist, radically subjectivist views that you ostensibly repudiate.

What you say about book output, and about how "more culture is produced today in the internet" in one day than was produced in a longer time in the past, clearly reveals your rather pedestrian view of high culture.

Well you clearly didn't understand my point then. I said that simply counting the volume of "book output", original or otherwise, seems more like a measure of economic output than of "cultural vitality" or "high culture." There are more "original titles" being produced today than in the past. This does not mean there is more "cultural vitality" today.

December 19, 2013 at 4:02 PM
Anonymous  

No, Murray showed what I said, and what Steve Sailer said, and you don't have a reply except to hang on to a little statement by Beckwith, when I already suggested and Sailer that even using the sources produced by Asians about their great artistic figures, the Europeans come way on top.

What do you mean no? Murray was not trying to show who produced the most references, dictionaries, encyclopedias. He was using a select sample of these sources as a measure of something else.

I "hang on" to Beckwith's criticism because you didn't address it. Murray used a select sample of sources, mainly American and German and English language sources. He used 2 non-Roman alphabet language sources, both in Japanese, out of the close to 170 total sources he used.

Yes, the fact that Westerners have produced far higher numbers of encyclopedias, references, etc, is a another indication of their superior scholarly achievements. Here is another troublesome fact: all the disciplines taught in our universities were invented by the Europeans including the university itself --- these are solid objective facts, measurable and indisputable.

Again, I think you misunderstand Murray's statistical methods. He wasn't simply trying to count up every source and defining the total as a certain measure of something. That's the opposite of what he was doing. He wanted a sample that he believed was authoritative and sufficient for his purposes. That's why he used a select sample of such sources, mainly American and German and English language sources.

You certainly could set out to count all the encyclopedias, references, etc., around the world and define the totals as a measure of scholarly achievement. But that's not what Murray was trying to do. I also have a hard time believing that you sincerely believe that simply measuring the total volume of such sources is genuinely indicative of scholarly achievement. It strikes me as the kind of "pedestrian view" you were criticizing earlier. You seem to be saying this primarily to make a rhetorical point for the purposes of debate.

Also I don't see why you seem to believe that the fact all the disciplines in our universities and the university itself were invented by Europeans is "troublesome" to me or to Beckwith. It certainly isn't "troublesome" to me or to Beckwith. If you've read Beckwith, you'd understand that the only thing "troublesome" about this fact is that most of these "disciplines", many of which only came to be taught during the past century, are of dubious and negative value, which I'd agree with.

December 19, 2013 at 4:09 PM
Anonymous  

Anonymous (the consistent defender of Beckwith):


"And yes, economic growth, science, and engineering are defined by measurements against a non-subjective, neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities aren't."

The "external world" of economics -- and we are talking about economic comparisons between West and East -- is not a neutral third party, but refers to the economic activities of humans. And the researcher's decision that the uniqueness of the West, or the rise of the West, can be understood solely through comparisons of activities of economic subjects, is itself subjective, in that it involves a judgment to the effect that these activities are enough to make judgments about the relative creativity of the respective civilizations. Now, I agree that in economics we deal with facts that lend themselves to quantification, but this should not be taken to mean that quantitative comparisons are better than less quantifiable comparisons. Besides, follow this debate, and notice how Anonymous-Becwith has nothing to say about the cultural facts I have listed indicating superior European creativity; here is another one: over 95% of all the great explorers in history were European. Heh, heh, heh.

Anonymous-Beckwith (A-B) is now posing as a defender of Murray, while denying all the statistical conclusions Murray reaches; for example, 97% of all the greatest scientists in history were European. A-B is saying that these are not objective facts, and would have us believe that the Bantus were just as creative in philosophy, painting, historiography, classical music, etc as the Europeans. Of course, his answer will be that he is not saying that the Europeans were less creative, but that this is an issue of no relevance to this debate, which amounts to what I am keep insisting upon: that A-B thinks that non-economic issues are not important in making comparative assessments simply because they don't lend themselves to the same degree of quantitative assessment.

December 20, 2013 at 10:16 AM
Anonymous  

A-B then writes: "Murray used a select sample of sources, mainly American and German and English language sources. He used 2 non-Roman alphabet language sources, both in Japanese, out of the close to 170 total sources he used."

Look, Murray has produced the most thorough statistical study comparing the great achievements of civilizations, and there is no way that a little sentence from Beckwith, to the effect that Murray did not use as many sources from the non-Western world, constitutes a refutation of Murray.

Murray compiles separate lists for each civilization when it comes to the Arts; he notes that the sheer number of “significant figures” in the arts is higher in the West in comparison to the combined number of the other civilizations. In Literature, the number in the West is 835, whereas the number in India, the Arab World, China, and Japan combined is 293. In the Visual Arts, it is 479 for the West as compared to 192 for China and Japan combined (with no significant figures listed for India and the Arab World). In Music, “the lack of a tradition of named composers in non-Western civilization means that the Western total of 522 significant figures has no real competition at all”.

He used more sources from the West because Westerners are the ones who have produced such sources, which is itself an indication of Western creativity (and no, I never said that Murray said this, I am saying it).

Personally I think Murray was being too modest; it is not a mere question of the greater number of significant artistic figures in the West, but that each figure in the West was far more original. As I argue in my book, the Eastern world has tended to be repetitive, producing no new art, music, philosophy, but always seeking to preserve the past. The West is filled with Faustian characters breaking new ground. See my essay: "The Faustian impulse and European exploration."

December 20, 2013 at 10:29 AM

How this conversation has wandered! A few stray thoughts:

1) I do think readers would be better served if both fellows involved dropped the 'anonymous' tag. Needless befuddlement.

2) I am going to refrain from commenting further on Mr. Duchesne's general argument. I do so partly because he did not read my own response very carefully (see, for a fairly clear example, his reply at Dec 15/2:38 am, which misreads my comment about Beijing opera at such a fundamental level that I must assume he only skimmed what he was responding to), but mostly because I have not read his book. It would not be just for me to further comment on the argument until I have read it in its most complete presentation.

Luckily his book seems to be one of those rare creations that even those who disagree with its ultimate conclusions have much to gain from reading it. I am sure I will enjoy it. The only trouble is cobbling together the spare $60 needed to read it...

December 20, 2013 at 12:19 PM

3) With that said, an observation on the course of this debate: there seems to be little distinction between measures of success/advancement/superiority/divergence and causes of it. We game the question if we do not distinguish between the two and end up muddling the argument.

4) I also remain unconvinced that real exceptionalism lies with the West, instead of with the Dutch, English, and Americans. I suggested that they were exceptional on at least three levels: the cognitive, including basic attitudes and biases, the intellectual, including documents, laws, and republican political thought, and material, seen most clearly in the divergent living standards of the Dutch/English yeomanry vis a vis all other peasants in the world.


The general response to the second point was to note that England was not alone in its innovations, but was embedded in a larger culture that had been innovating for centuries. I find this defense slightly ironic, for it is the exact same line the multi-culturarists use. "Europe was embedded in a much larger cultural exchange" they say; "the Scientific Revolution could never have happened without Arabic numerals" they may affirm, or "Western armies received gunpowder from the East."

No man is an island and no civilization is a world unto itself. But at some point we must draw the dividing line--and it makes much more sense to me to draw that line between the North Sea and the rest than it does to draw it anywhere else.

The clear difference in living standards from the 1300s onward is one of the reasons I make this judgement. Duchesne's response to this was to call me a Marxist ideologue. Such criticism is both inaccurate (had I to cite any 'great mind' for the attention I pay to the social condition of society as a whole and the way these conditions shape history and ideology, I would cite Tocqueville) and insufficient. I do not deny that non-material forces have driven human history nor do I contend that "fields of human achievement [like art and philosophy] are irrelevant."

What I ask is for you to demonstrate how things like art and philosophy are relevant to the broader course of history.

This ties into #3 above - are the great painters and philosophers of the West a measure or a cause of Western divergence? If these things are simply a measure of accomplishment than I suppose we have no dispute. But if Western high culture is determined to be a cause of the West's success then I must return to my original question: what connection exists between Leonardo da Vinci or Spinazoa or Cervantes and the millions of people who actually propelled civilization forward?

As a side note, I happened to be looking at a data table in van Zanden's Long Road to the Industrial Revolution listing literacy rates across different parts of Europe from year 1000-1800 (if you have the book it is on p. 193). By 1600 only two countries could claim 50% literacy rate - England and the Netherlands. I do not think it is a coincidence that the only two countries where the high culture could filter down to the masses were the same places where republicanism, capitalism, and industrialization were pioneered.

5) As said above, this will be final comment on the argument until I have had the opportunity to read the book. You gentleman (or perhaps our anonymous commenter is female, and gentlewoman would be more appropriate?) may feel free to continue hashing things out here in the comments as long as you keep things civil.

December 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Anonymous  

The "external world" of economics -- and we are talking about economic comparisons between West and East -- is not a neutral third party, but refers to the economic activities of humans.

Again, you fail to understand my earlier point so I will reiterate it: economic growth, science, and engineering are defined by measurements against a non-subjective, neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities aren't.

It's not that comparisons of economic growth or prosperity are "better" because they are quantified, it's that comparisons of economic growth or prosperity between different times and places (this year and last year, West and East, England and Scotland, etc.) can only be made with reference to objective measures from the external material world such as a basket of goods, GDP, calories, etc. Otherwise such comparisons would be impossible. There would be no objective grounds to say that one time or place had or has higher economic growth or prosperity.

I repeat: I don't see how you can deny this without descending into the kind of postmodernist, Cultural Marxist, radically subjectivist views that you ostensibly repudiate.

And I never said that "the uniqueness of the West, or the rise of the West, can be understood solely through comparisons of activities of economic subjects."

December 20, 2013 at 3:31 PM
Anonymous  

Anonymous-Beckwith (A-B) is now posing as a defender of Murray, while denying all the statistical conclusions Murray reaches; for example, 97% of all the greatest scientists in history were European. A-B is saying that these are not objective facts, and would have us believe that the Bantus were just as creative in philosophy, painting, historiography, classical music, etc as the Europeans. Of course, his answer will be that he is not saying that the Europeans were less creative, but that this is an issue of no relevance to this debate, which amounts to what I am keep insisting upon: that A-B thinks that non-economic issues are not important in making comparative assessments simply because they don't lend themselves to the same degree of quantitative assessment.

As I said in my original comment, I like Charles Murray and his book Human Accomplishment and his work more generally.

I never said that I deny "all the statistical conclusions Murray reaches."

I never said that "the Bantus were just as creative in philosophy, painting, historiography, classical music, etc as the Europeans."

And yes, I never said that "the Europeans were less creative."

And finally, I never said that "non-economic issues are not important in making comparative assessments simply because they don't lend themselves to the same degree of quantitative assessment."

I'll repeat what I said earlier since you ignore, misunderstand, and fail to address what I've clearly explained earlier while misrepresenting my views and putting words in my mouth: economic growth, science, and engineering are defined by measurements against a non-subjective, neutral 3rd party - the external material world - in a way that the arts and humanities aren't. That's the whole point of the scientific method: employing experimentation, controls, replication, etc., to get away from subjective judgment. The subjective judgment of Marxists with respect to economics, or of the Catholic Church with respect to the position of the Earth in the cosmos, or of any other person or group of people with respect to economic growth, science, and engineering. If it disagrees with experiment and the external material world, it's wrong. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks. This, needless to say, is not the case with the arts and the humanities. And this does not mean that the arts and humanities are "less important." Some would argue this makes the arts and humanities even more important than economics, science, and engineering. All this means is that comparisons of economics, science, and engineering can be objective in a way that the arts and humanities are not.

December 20, 2013 at 3:33 PM
Anonymous  

Look, Murray has produced the most thorough statistical study comparing the great achievements of civilizations, and there is no way that a little sentence from Beckwith, to the effect that Murray did not use as many sources from the non-Western world, constitutes a refutation of Murray.

Beckwith's criticism addressed the basis of Murray's methodology and sources. It was hardly just "a little sentence." And it wasn't simply about Murray using 2 non-Western sources out of around 170 total sources.

He used more sources from the West because Westerners are the ones who have produced such sources, which is itself an indication of Western creativity (and no, I never said that Murray said this, I am saying it).

That's not why he used more sources from the West. If you think he was simply trying to amass any and all sources he could find, then you misunderstand his statistical methods.

December 20, 2013 at 3:35 PM
Anonymous  


By RD:
First, when I say that A-B wants to dismiss the history of art and philosophy, of high culture generally, I obviously don't mean that he wants to dismiss these things per se; A-B knows what I mean: he wants to dismiss them *as far as this debate is concerned*, and he is wrong to do so.

But I do sense a slight change of wording on his part. I am glad the commenter I call A-B, who defends Beckwith's alleged refutation of Murray, is starting to come around, agreeing that, even if we cannot measure cultural matters in the same way as we measure economic matters, it does not follow that we cannot ask why Europe was far more creative culturally than the Rest. He agrees that it would be absurd on his part to argue that, since we cannot measure the creativity of the Bantus in the same was as we can measure their economic output, it would be wrong to assume that Bantu cultural creations were similar to those of Germany. A-B may be willing now to ponder why Europe was far more creative in *all* the spheres of human activity, why Europeans constituted 95% of all the great explorers, 100% of all the classical composers, almost all the great philosophers, without simply dismissing this question as a non-question because it is not as quantifiable as economics.

He might also come to agree that a lot of the economic data collected about pre-modern societies is not as solid as the neat numbers would suggest, but actually less reliable than the mere observation that deductive reasoning was invented by the Greeks, and the idea of the legal persona by the Romans, and the novel by the Spaniards, French, and English.

This debate needs to be opened up beyond mere economics and how much the mob consumed and shopped at malls. Take the history of art, E.H. Gombrich is correct: "...there is one respect in which Western Europe always differed profoundly from the East. In the East these styles lasted for thousands of years, and there seemed no reason why they should ever change. The West never knew immobility. It was always restless. groping for new solutions and new ideas".

This book, The Story Art of Art, published first in 1950, is still the best survey on the history of art. I read it two years ago, and it contains truths that the revisionists cannot handle, and want everyone to dismiss as irrelevant to this debate. When I tell them so, they answer, "oh no, I like art, my kid is taking art and the teacher just told her she was going to be a great artist". But this is not the issue, it is whether we think that non-economic activities should be compared as part of this debate.


December 22, 2013 at 6:33 AM
Anonymous  

By RD:

I did not misread what Greer said re Beijing Opera. He said, in response, to my claim that 100% of classical composers were European, and that Europeans invented the novel, that "it was the East Asians who invented Zuihitsu literature and produced every single classical composer of Beijing Opera in modern times!"

I replied by offering a rather detailed comment on the invention of the novel by Europeans, explaining what it means to say "novel". Just referring to Zuihitsu literature does not constitute a reply, as first one has to show whether this literature qualifies as novel-like, and whether it was actually original or an imitation, and whether the Japanese kept on producing different styles of novels. The same goes for the claim about Beijing Opera. I have a 700+ page book, The Lives of the Great Composers, by Schonberg, and every composer mentioned in the book is from Europe.

I disagree with Greer's statement that an emphasis on Art, if it is to be taken seriously, has to include an assessment of the role of Art in bringing about economic changes. This is a Marxist way of thinking; the infrastructure is more important than the superstructure, but why not ask how economic growth causes cultural creativity? The Marxists were never able to show that economics was more important, other than say that we first need to eat to produce art and philosophy, but they can't explain different styles of art and why ancient Greece was more creative than China, say, in the Ming Era, when China was more advanced economically. Today, countless cities in the US have high per capita incomes but are less original than Athens.

December 22, 2013 at 6:51 AM
Anonymous  

I haven't changed my wording. If you read my comments, you'll notice I've repeated myself, word for word, several times.

It's not a matter of whether these questions are "non-questions", but a matter of the nature of the questions themselves.

You still fail to address the crucial point that it's not simply a matter of easier measurement and quantification when it comes to economic growth, science, and engineering, but a matter of non-subjectivity that doesn't obtain in the arts and humanities. You also haven't addressed Beckwith's criticism regarding the basis of Murray's methodology and sources.

Now if your view is that there's nothing ultimately relatively non-subjective about economic growth, science, and engineering, and that Beckwith's criticism is irrelevant since there's no non-subjectivity, then that's fine, but you should state it plainly. Though it's not clear how much dialogue is even possible if there is profound disagreement over this issue.

December 24, 2013 at 12:15 AM

If you look at growth rates there is still nothing special going on before 1600. Gregory Clark would say, there was nothing special before 1800. If per capita GDP prior to 1600/1800 was determined simply by land, population size, birth rates, and death rates, then there isn't much point in talking about the great divergence prior to the modern period. The great divergence is about the acceleration of economic growth due to efficiency.

April 16, 2014 at 7:57 PM

@Pseudo-

Thank you for the response. Two thoughts.

1. I focus on GDP per capita changes in the 'little divergence' for a fairly simply reason: they are clear and objective measures of the increasing standard of living. English peasants in 1360 lived better lives than English peasants in 1100, and those who lived in 1500 lived better than those in 1360, and so on. This progress, though slow, is real and measurable. And it was not happening anywhere else in the world, making it a divergence worth studying.

2. That growth rates did not begin to change until the 1700s is acknowledged in this post and others in this series. Indeed, I have suggested before that this is the defining feature of modern civilization and the most important way to 'periodize' the immensity of human history.

I differ from you (and Mr. Clark) in that I do not attribute the incredible growth rates of the Exponential Age to increases in efficiency, but to increases in potential productivity made possible through exploiting non-animate energy sources.

I suppose you could say, in economic parlance, that gains in efficiency could only ever bring production closer to the Production Possibilities Frontier, while the energetic revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries dramatically expanded the limits of the frontier itself.

I explain this with more depth here:

"The Rise of the West--Asking the Right Questions"


and the links collected here may also be useful:

"Energy Use and Economic Growth: Same Basic Facts

April 18, 2014 at 4:24 AM

English peasants in 1360 lived better lives than English peasants in 1100, and those who lived in 1500 lived better than those in 1360, and so on. This progress, though slow, is real and measurable. And it was not happening anywhere else in the world, making it a divergence worth studying.

I look at the same Broadberry data that you posted, and this is what I see : between 1100 and 1348, effectively England had zero average growth. You had the one-time increase in living standards from the Black Death, and then between 1400 and 1650, there was, once again, effectively zero growth. So what I still see in Europe before 1600 (I'm a little more generous than Clark) is a world broadly consistent with the Malthusian model : long-term stasis during which GDP per capita appears to be determined by fertility practises and mortality.

I differ from you (and Mr. Clark) in that I do not attribute the incredible growth rates of the Exponential Age to increases in efficiency, but to increases in potential productivity made possible through exploiting non-animate energy sources. I suppose you could say, in economic parlance, that gains in efficiency could only ever bring production closer to the Production Possibilities Frontier, while the energetic revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries dramatically expanded the limits of the frontier itself."

Increases in efficiency = "increases in potential productivity". In the context of long-run economic growth, "efficiency" or "total factor productivity" is output per unit of inputs in all factors of production (and that would include energy).

An increase in efficiency would be depicted as an upward shift in the PPF. A decrease in efficiency would be depicted a downward shift in the PPF.

In the Malthusian model, there are indeed increases in efficiency (upward shift in the PPF) but they are too small/slow in the short run not to be swamped by responses in natality and mortality.

April 18, 2014 at 7:18 AM

"I focus on GDP per capita changes in the 'little divergence' for a fairly simply reason: they are clear and objective measures of the increasing standard of living.

I really don't know what is the huge methodological difference between Maddison's data and the Maddison Project's. I've read this and I can't really figure it out. You tell me.

Maddison's pre-1800 data are derived from a small set of assumptions, as sketched in Appendix B of The Monitoring the World Economy 1820-1992. And those initial assumptions are rolled over into every subsequent iteration of Maddison's long-run income histories of the world, and apparently into the Maddison Project database itself. I quote from the aforementioned Appendix B, pp 260-261 of that book :

"Before 1500, the element of conjecture in the estimates is very large indeed. The derivation of per capita GDP levels for China and Europe are explained in Maddison (1998a), and the conjectures for other areas are explained below. In all cases GDP is derived by multiplying the per capita levels by the independently estimated levels of population.

"Maddison (1998a) contained estimates of Chinese economic performance from the first century onwards. The evidence suggested that per capita GDP in the first century (in the Han dynasty) was above subsistence levels — about $450 in our numeraire (1990 international dollars), but did not change significantly until the end of the 10th century.

"For most of the rest of Asia, it seemed reasonable here to assume that the level of per capita income was similar to that in China and showed no great change from the first century to the year 1000. The $450 level of per capita income assumed here is sufficiently above subsistence to maintain the governing elite in some degree of luxury and to sustain a relatively elaborate system of governance. Japan was a rather special case. In the first century, it was a subsistence economy in course of transition to agriculture from hunting and gathering, and from wooden to metal tools. By the year 1000, it had made some progress but lagged well behind China.

"In Maddison (1998a), pp. 25, 37–38, it was assumed that European per capita income levels in the first century were similar to those in China. Goldsmith (1984) provided a comprehensive assessment of economic performance for the Roman Empire as a whole, and also provided a temporal link, suggesting that Roman levels were about two fifths of Gregory King’s estimate of English income for 1688.

"The West Asian and North African parts of the Roman Empire were at least as prosperous and urbanised as the European component, which warrants the assumption of similar levels of income there.

"Between the first century and the year 1000, there was a collapse in living standards in Western Europe. Urbanisation ratios provide the strongest evidence that the year 1000 was a nadir. The urban ratio of Roman Europe was around 5 per cent in the first century. This compares with zero in the year 1000, when there were only 4 towns with more than 10 000 population (see Maddison, 1998a, p. 35). The urban collapse and other signs of decline warrant the assumption of a relapse more or less to subsistence levels ($400 per capita) in the year 1000.

"For the Americas, Australasia, Africa south of the Sahara, Eastern Europe and the area of the former USSR, I have assumed that more or less subsistence levels of income ($400 per capita) prevailed from the first century to the end of the first millennium.

April 18, 2014 at 7:24 AM

Also from his 1998 book on Chinese economic history :

"3. In the first century, at the death of Augustus, the Roman Empire had 23 million inhabitants in Europe, 19.5 million in what became the Byzantine Empire, and 11.5 million in Africa (see Beloch, 1886, p. 507). Goldsmith (1984) produced an extraordinarily erudite, ingenious and ambitious attempt to estimate total and per capita income in the Empire at the time of Augustus. He suggests that per capita product was about two fifths of the British level at the end of the seventeeth century. Using my 1990 numeraire, this would be around $500. However, the Asian and African parts of the Empire were more urbanised than the Western Empire and Egypt’s irrigated agriculture had much higher yields than those in Europe. The level in the West was therefore lower than the average for the whole of the Empire, and the non–Roman inhabitants of Europe (about 11 million in the first century) were operating near subsistence levels. In my estimate for European per capita income in the first century (Table 1.3 above), I assumed a $480 level in the Roman part, and a $400 in the non–Roman area — an average of about $450. I assumed that China and Europe operated at about the same per capita level in the first century A.D.
"


Now, it's true the level of documentation about wages is much improved after 1200 or 1300, but the base income in 1000 is extrapolated from the assumed income of the world in 1 AD. So a lot hinges on the reasonableness of the assumptions about that year.

And what are those assumptions ?

(1)
Universal subsistence income is $400 in 1990 G-K dollars. Most of the world in 0-1000 eithers falls into $400 or $450 category.

(2)
Roman empire income in 1AD ≈ 40% of British income in 1700 ≈ $500 in Maddison's base => European income of $450 in 1AD ≈ (by assumption) Chinese income in 1AD => (by assumption) rest of Asia about the same as China => (by assumption) little change in income in Asia until 1000, but European income falls below $400 until 1000.

The whole thing is a house of cards.

Besides, too much depends on that magic subsistence number. You can convert the $400 into equivalents in wheat, rice or sorghum or whatever, and there's no way to derive daily kilocalories to sustain even a sedentary office worker today, let alone a peasant slaving away all day on a diet of starch. And that's the average income. That means peasants in the bottom half of the distribution would be living (naked, apparently) on what, the calorie equivalent of two low-cal but high-carb frozen dinners every day ?

On England, let's turn to Broadberry, because he and Clark have diametrically opposite views about English incomes even as late 1800. Clark argues that English income per head in 1800 was basically the same as in 1400. There was fluctuation in-between but in the long run income was trendless. He uses time series evidence from wages, which Broadberry does not dispute. Take a look at Figure 13 from Broadberry. So how does Broadberry get three times the increase in income from 1200 to 1800 ??? It's not clear, but the only way is to assume that English workers in 1200-1300 just didn't work that many days a year. But it's an assumption.

April 18, 2014 at 7:25 AM

Just to be clear : I do agree there was a "little divergence" between Northwest Europe and East Asia before the Great Divergence. The only question that remains is, was the world Malthusian before the Great Divergence ? If it was, then the little divergence may be real but totally uninteresting. The disparity between Europe and Asia would just be a question of different income equilibria given different fertility practises and mortality conditions. Malthus himself argued Northwest Europe practised voluntary, preventative controls on fertility (such as late marriage and high rates of marital abstention by women), whereas the rest of the world produced the biologically maximum number of children per woman through universal early marriage while allowing only natural checks on population. Clark argues that all preindustrial societies practised preventative checks on fertility, but in very different ways, with different outcomes. He also stresses the importance of hygiene in East Asian poverty relative to Europe (better hygiene = less mortality => higher population density => more poverty).

April 18, 2014 at 2:28 PM

I said earlier,

"So how does Broadberry get three times the increase in income from 1200 to 1800 ??? It's not clear, but the only way is to assume that English workers in 1200-1300 just didn't work that many days a year."

Actually, it's fairly clear how. Broadberry assumes there was a big decline in the number of days worked per family between 1250 and 1450, and then assumes an even bigger increase between 1450 and 1800. Without assuming this, the wages rates in 1400 are simply too high and income estimates for 1400 would come out looking pretty much the same as in 1800.

Broadberry lifts these estimates from several sources which turn out to use quite fragile assumptions. I'm not saying they are necessarily wrong, but there's no overwhelming reason to make those assumptions. It would be equally reasonable to assume a relatively steady progress of days worked per person/family in the 500 years to 1800.

So, far from being the "clear and objective measures of the... standard of living" as Greer would like them to be, these premodern output estimates are full of assumptions which reflect the estimator's ideological preferences.

From The Rise of the West : Asking the Right questions :

"Northern Italy's GDP per capita surged between 1000 and 1500, but then afterwards stagnated."

The $500 income per head in 1000 AD is, for all pratical purposes, made up. There are good data on wages from northern Italy from about 1300, and Malanima has come up with a time series which shows, with the exception of the one-time surge due to the Black Death, incomes stagnate right from the beginning of available data circa 1300. (See Figure 2.)

April 19, 2014 at 6:31 AM

Pseudo-

Thanks for the comments (really!) I am in a bit of a fix with my work load at the moment so I have not been able to write a proper reply to what you've said. I had the time to look at some of the studies Madison project uses, as well as Broadberry's citations, but not all of them. I'd like to do that before I respond at length -- please forgive me, for I might not have that time until this weekend. But I'll respond soon.

April 22, 2014 at 3:04 AM

For me Maddion's assumptions about the period prior to 1200 or 1300 are contrary to the spirit of the cliometric revolution in economic history. That was all about testing our qualitative knowledge and intuitions about history using data and scientific methods. Instead, Maddison used our qualitative knowledge to decide the data.

I don't believe for a second that the world prior to 1000 consistently lived at bare bones subsistence. We know from the recent settlement history of the Americas and Australasia that with huge new agricultural frontiers and a low population density you can have shockingly high incomes for the times. And western & northern Europe, the Eurasian steppe, and western and northern China were all scenes of frontier expansion during the millennium to 1000. In Europe, if it's true that the population in the West collapsed after 400, then incomes surely rose ! The west had also been less densely populated than the east and less intensively cultivated. In a world of constant technology you can still escape the constraints of fertility and mortality if the quantity of land is not fixed. Yet technology was not constant, even during the so-called Dark Ages. There were numerous technological innovations or introductions which improved upon, or were lacking, in the Romans, including the rotary grindstone, the nailed metal horseshoe, the heavy wheeled plough and horse collar harness. The last of these, the ancients lacked completely since they harnessed the neck of draught animals. And there was also improvement in <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_early_medieval_watermills”>water mills</a>. Such innovations which are basic to agricultural production surely had much greater impact on living standards than the flashier and more famous innovations of the late Middle Ages, such as mechanical clocks, the compass, the printing press or gunpowder. We know, for example, the printing press resulted in huge gains in productivity in the production of books. But, unlike cotton & woolen textiles in the 19th century, books were an insignificant part of household consumption so how can such things have raised living standards.

April 23, 2014 at 4:34 AM

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