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

Historians have always puzzled over Britain's ascent in the Industrial Revolution, often offering conflicting theories to explain its rise. Pomeranz takes a neo-Malthusian, ecological approach that focuses on access to food and raw materials. He observes that the core areas of China, Japan, and India shared similar levels of technological and institutional development with Europe by 1750. Like Europe, they had already cleared much land to feed their growing populations and faced increasing difficulty in importing food, fuel, and fibers; over time, they shifted to more labor-intensive agriculture. In contrast, Europe had more institutional slack, easier access to coal (which was crucial, in the author's view), and cheap imports of sugar and cotton harvested by slaves in its New World colonies. Europe's technological boom actually came later. Pomeranz relies heavily on plausible guesstimates, based on extensive but fragmentary evidence, to make quantitative arguments and venture occasionally into counterfactual analysis. It is a pity that he does not even mention the quite different explanations offered in David Landes' recent Wealth and Poverty of Nations.

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