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OT - origins of 3rd world poverty: white foreign devils or home grown greed?

From: Eric D. Pierce <>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 09:52:30 -0700
Message-ID: <>

origins of 3rd world poverty: white foreign devils or homegrown greed?



| To evaluate the claim that British imperialism, political and
| economic, explains the development gap, we need to start by
| recognizing that the gap was a very long time coming. The living
| standards of Western European farmers and other humble folk began
| to improve about A.D. 1000 at a rate fast enough to be noticeable
| from century to century, though not from decade to decade. Asian
| and Islamic farmers were probably living better than Europeans in
| 1000, but they did not experience a comparable, long-sustained
| improvement during the second millennium. At some much-debated time
| between 1450 and 1820, European living standards inched past Asian
| and Asiatic standards.
| Then, about 1820, as Europe settled down from the Napoleonic wars,
| the European rate of improvement turned up sharply, which, in this
| context, means an increase from an average rise in per capita real
| national income from about 0.3 percent a year to around 1.5 percent
| a year. There was no similar upturn in the Third World, and the
| wonders of compounding growth over 180 years produced the present
| large and growing gap.
| Thus the gap "shaped decisively," according to Davis, in the last
| quarter of the 19th century, had begun to widen unmistakably by
| 1820, more than half a century earlier. It continued to widen
| through the late Victorian period, the decades until India gained
| its independence in 1947, and still continues to expand more than
| half a century later.
| A large part of the present development gap is attributable to
| rural poverty, particularly in India and China, and Davis is right
| to stress rural poverty and its causes. Here, too, the roots of
| poverty are ancient. The limitations of agricultural technology
| before the 19th century required that the great majority of the
| people of all civilizations be farmers. Over a period of more than
| 5,000 years, wherever farmers produced a surplus of food over their
| own needs, the urban elites, possessing military power, could be
| counted on to take advantage of their power to appropriate their
| food supply and in the process reduce the farmers to penury.
| Economic historian Alan Macfarlane recounts the emergence of a
| viable agriculture of family farms in England (in 1978’s The
| Origins of English Individualism). He describes the history of
| peasant societies as a crisis cycle of population expansion,
| followed by a reduction in population through war, famine, or
| disease.
| Modern economic development literature is concerned with two very
| different types of growth, not always clearly separated. One type
| roughly parallels the upswings in Macfarlane’s "crisis" cycles,
| when societies recovering from disaster repopulate themselves and,
| one hopes, experience a recovery in living standards. This is a
| painless and ever-welcome kind of growth, in that it consists in a
| moderate rise in per capita output of much the same goods by people
| in the same occupations as before, without severely discommoding
| anybody. Significant technological advances are welcome but by no
| means required. The peaks are remembered as "Golden Ages," though
| they are golden only in comparison to the troughs. By the standard
| of modern growth economies, the golden ages were marked by short
| life expectancy, high infant-death rates, deficient nutrition,
| dwarfed human beings, coerced religious conformism, negligible
| medical care, widespread illiteracy, little or no vertical economic
| mobility, and despotic government. That is what made a fall from a
| Golden Age truly a disaster.
| The other type of growth is the one that produced the $22,640 side
| of the development gap. This type of growth is not linked to any
| historical cycles and is uniquely Western European in origin. In
| contrast to Third World countries, growth economies moved from
| labor-intensive production to capital-intensive and energy-
| intensive production. The result was an immense increase in
| physical output. Labor did not respond with a fully off-setting
| rise in the birth rate, as Malthus had predicted, and the effect
| was a shift to economies in which labor is scarce and expensive and
| capital and energy are abundant and cheap—though that is not the
| way populists usually perceive them.
| Western European growth and its $22,640 incomes depended critically
| upon a rate of scientific and technological advance more rapid than
| any experienced anywhere before 1600. It entailed a slow but
| complete change in society and almost everybody’s role in it. For
| example, advances in agricultural technology have reduced the
| current proportion of the American population engaged in
| agriculture from 44 percent in 1880 to 2 percent currently. The
| whole pattern of economic output changed, not once but
| continuously. Over the past 200 years, economically advancing
| societies transformed themselves from rural to urban to suburban,
| from despotic to democratic, from work-energy supplied by wind,
| waterwheels, humans, horses, and oxen to work-energy supplied by
| steam and other mechanical sources, and from majority illiteracy to
| nearly universal literacy. They transformed themselves also by
| repeated radical physical changes in their infrastructures,
| housing, and stocks of capital goods. The West’s numerically
| dominant "peasantries" faded into small, government-subsidized
| minorities practicing capital-intensive and land-intensive
| agriculture.
| The simplest strategy for Third World countries that want to become
| growth economies is to imitate, to the best of their ability, the
| Western institutions and practices that appear to have played a
| part in growth. The feasibility of doing so has been demonstrated
| by a number of countries that deliberately imitated Western means
| to economic growth and are, by and large, well on their way to
| imitating Western results.
| In the process they have overcome most of the differences of
| geography, history, politics, culture, and experiences with war,
| foreign conquest, and natural disaster that have been advanced as
| reasons why progress was impossible. Even in China and India, the
| per capita income of urban dwellers is rising, and the South
| Koreans, whose colonial experience at the hands of the Japanese was
| exceptionally degrading, shine in contrast to the leftist famine
| culture of their fellow Koreans to the north.
| Given the existence of an obvious and tested development strategy,
| there are at least two reasons for the long delay in closing the
| development gap. One is the intrinsic difficulty of shifting the
| huge rural populations of China and India to a land- and capital-
| intensive agriculture.

The other is that objections to some or all
| of the institutional means of Western economic growth are part of
| the working ideologies of influential people in both Western and
| Third World polities.

A faithful soldier of the left like Mike
| Davis should have no difficulty understanding why Asian and African
| societies did not quickly borrow the economic institutions that
| produced the gap. They [Asian and African societies]
| agreed with neo-Marxist, anti–free market,
| anti-individualist ideology similar to his.



additional background on the reviewer:

| Editorial Reviews
| Book Description
| In this elegant synthesis of economic history, two scholars argue
| that it is the political pluralism and the flexibility of the
| West's institutions--not corporate organization and mass production
| technology--that explain its unparalleled wealth.


| Customer Reviews


| "How the West Grew Rich" is a thorough treatise on the rise of
| capitilism in the nation-states of the west, from feudal society
| towards modern times. Rosenthal and Birdzell discuss in the
| appearances of the requirements for capitilism, such as
| acknowledgment of property rights and consistent and predictable
| law. Also discussed are the political, social, or economic changes
| that caused feudal society to crumble and a variety of free markets
| to gradually take root and then blossom in Europe.
| This book was thorough and informative, though a bit repetitive and
| somewhat dry. It makes a wonderful companion to Diamond's "Guns,
| Germs, and Steel", filling in where the later left off.

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