Cover image for 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
Pomeranz, Kenneth.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 382 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Comparisons, connections, and narratives of European economic development -- Europe before Asia? Population, capital accumulation, and technology in explanations of European development -- Market economies in Europe and Asia -- Luxury consumption and the rise of capitalism -- Visible hands: firm structure, sociopolitical structure, and "capitalism" in Europe and Asia -- Shared constraints: ecological strain in Western Europe and East Asia -- Abolishing the land constraint: the Americas as a new kind of periphery.
Reading Level:
1750 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HC240 .P5965 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HC240 .P5965 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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.

Author Notes

Kenneth Pomeranz is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Pomeranz is a history professor at the University of California^-Irvine and the author of The Making of a Hinterland: State, Society, and Economy in Inland North China, 1853^-1937 (1993), an academic study that investigated the role of steam-powered transportation (among other developments) in the growth of China's Shantung Province. He is also the coauthor of the more popularly accessible The World That Trade Created (1999). Now he looks at the question of why sustained industrial growth began in northwestern Europe but not East Asia. To even ask the question can bring charges of Eurocentrism, but Pomeranz acknowledges the role of colonialism in Europe's growth. He emphasizes, though, Europe's access to America's resources as one of two contributing factors to industrial growth, the second being the widespread availability within Europe of coal as a fuel. After challenging the convention that Europe held an edge before 1800, he traces with scholarly diligence the diverging patterns of growth between Europe and China. --David Rouse

Choice Review

The vast international disparity in incomes and standards of living between Western Europe and its offshoots on the one hand, and most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America on the other, is a striking feature of the modern world. When and how did this divergence between the West and the rest arise? This question has long intrigued social scientists and economic historians. There is by now a vast literature devoted to the topic. In this provocative book Pomeranz (history, Univ. of California, Irvine) offers a new and distinctive answer. Taking seriously the challenge of comparative history, Pomeranz carefully compares Western Europe to the economic cores of China, Japan, and India. He argues persuasively that as late as 1800 Western Europe and the major Asian economies had a great deal in common. What differentiated Europe and allowed it to escape the ecological constraints that limited its competitors was its fortuitous access to fossil fuels and unique ability to tap New World regions capable of supplying it with land-intensive agricultural products. Pomeranz's study is an important addition to the literature that challenges elements of every major interpretation of the European take-off. Recommended for upper-division undergraduate through faculty collections and also public libraries. J. L. Rosenbloom; University of Kansas

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introduction Comparisons, Connections, and Narratives of European Economic Developmentp. 3
Variations on the Eurppe-Centered Story: Demography. Ecology, and Accumulationp. 10
Other Europe-Centered Stories: Markets, Firms, and Institutionsp. 14
Problems with the Europe-Centered Storiesp. 16
Building a More Inclusive Storyp. 17
Comparisons, Connections, and the Structure of the Argumentp. 24
A Note on Geographic Coveragep. 25
Part 1 A World of Surprising Resemblancesp. 29
1 Europe before Asia? Population, Capital Accumulation, and Technology in Explanations of European Developmentp. 31
Agriculture, Transport, and Livestock Capitalp. 32
Living Longer? Living Better?p. 36
Birthratesp. 40
Accumulation?p. 42
What about Technology?p. 43
2 Market Economies in Europe and Asiap. 69
Land Markets and Restrictions on Land Use in China and Western Europep. 70
Labor Systemsp. 80
Migration, Markets, and Institutionsp. 82
Markets for Farm Productsp. 86
Rural Industry and Sideline Activitiesp. 86
Family Labor in China and Europe: "Involution" and the "Industrious Revolution"p. 91
Conclusion to Part 1: Multiple Cores and Shared Constraints in the Early Modem World Economyp. 107
Part 2 From New Ethos to New Economy? Consumption, Investment, and Capitalismp. 109
Introductionp. 111
3 Luxury Consumption and the Rise of Capitalismp. 114
More and Less Ordinary Luxuriesp. 114
Everyday Luxuries and Popular Consumption in Early Modem Europe and Asiap. 116
Consumer Durables and the "Objectification of Luxuryp. 127
Exotic Goods and the Velocity of Fashion: Global Conjuncture and the Appearance of Culturally Based Economic Differencep. 152
Luxury Demand, Social Systems, and Capitalist Firmsp. 162
Visible Hands: Firm Structure, Sociopolitical Structure and "Capitalism" in Europe and Asiap. 166
Overseas Extraction and Capital Accumulation: The Williams Thesis Revisitedp. 186
The Importance of the Obvious: Luxury Demand, Capitalism, and New World Colonizationp. 189
Interstate Competition, Violence, and State Systems: How They Didn't Matter and How They Didp. 194
Conclusion to Part 2: The Significance of Similarities and of Differencesp. 206
Part 3 Beyond Smith and Malthus: From Ecological Constraints to Sustained Industrial Growthp. 209
5 Shared Constraints: Ecological Strain in Western Europe and East Asiap. 211
Deforestation and Soil Depletion in China: Some Comparisons with Europep. 225
Trading for Resources with Old World Peripheries: Common Patterns and Limits of Smithian Solutions to Quasi-Malthusian Problemsp. 242
6 Abolishing the Land Constraint: The Americas as a New Kind of Peripheryp. 264
Another New World, Another Windfall: Precious Metalsp. 269
Some Measurements of Ecological Relief: Britain in the Age of the Industrial Revolutionp. 274
Comparisons and Calculations: What Do the Numbers Mean?p. 279
Beyond and Besides the Numbersp. 281
Into an Industrial Worldp. 283
Last Comparisons: Labor Intensity, Resources, and Industrial "Growing Up"p. 285
Appendix A Comparative Estimates of Land Transport Capacity per Person: Germany and North India, circa 1800p. 301
Appendix B Estimates of Manure Applied to North China and European Farms in the Late Eighteenth Century, and a Comparison of Resulting Nitrogen Fluxesp. 303
Appendix C Forest Cover and Fuel-Supply Estimates for France, Lingnan, and a Portion of North China, 1700-1850p. 307
Appendix D Estimates of "Ghost Acreage" Provided by Various Imports to Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Britainp. 313
Appendix E Estimates of Earning Power of Rural Textile Workers in the Lower Yangzi Region of China, 1750-1840p. 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 Germanyp. 327
Bibliographyp. 339
Indexp. 373