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Lecture 7

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Sofia Eriksson

on 25 July 2014

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Transcript of Lecture 7

Lecture 7:
Great Divergence, Or: Escaping the ‘Malthusian’ Pre-Industrial Trap
In 2014:
- Material plenty: lots of food, comfortable houses, heaters, fans, Tvs, iphones...in the western world, even the very poorest people in society live in comparative comfort.
And we expect things to keep improving: constant economic growth of at least a few % or hands are wrung and people talk about recession, depression, down turns.
And not only do we expect growth: we do it despite the constantly increasing population of the world, currently just over 7 billion and counting
And we do fulfill these expectations in many cases. Even though the population constantly rises, the global living standard does too, at least in most of the world (exceptions in sub-Saharan Africa)
Global income per capita in the 20th C
For most of human history, this story of sustained growth was not true
This graph is from Gregory Clark's book "Farewell to Alms", and it describes the global income per person from 1000 year BC to the year 2000.
As you can see, much of human history saw only cyclical growth: over a few hundred years there would be an increase in income per capita = improvement in living standard, followed by a decline
The cycles depended on weather, diseases, wars etc.
Temperature fluctuations
recurring epidemics
These cycles in income per capita (person) - the unit we use to measure living standard - had a the effect of controlling the population size:
- Good times let to increased population growth when people had more food and could feed more children
- Bad times led to decreased population, as people struggled to feed themselves and their children.
a slave in Ancient Greece, a 9th century Japanese peasant, a 15th century African lord – they enjoyed roughly similar access to calories and creature comforts.
Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 - 1834)
British scholar and cleric, wrote the book "An Essay on the Principle of Population"
Here Malthus argued that not only did living standard control the population size, but that the population size also determined living standard.
"I think I may fairly make two postulata:
First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.
Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state.
These two laws, ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature.... Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce
subsistence for man.
Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.
By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind."

Malthus' theory explained:
1. When access to food improved (because of good weather or improved agricultural technologies) there would be and increase in living standard: people would get more food, eat better, sell or exchange some of the food for things that made their everyday life better.

2. Because female fertility is connected to the nutrition available, and because more wealth meant earlier marriages, this improvement in living standard would soon result in people having more children and more of these children - having enough to eat - surviving to adulthood.
3. This would result in size of the population growing, so the new, larger, supply of food would soon result in new mouths to feed, rather than in more food for existing mouths. The same living standard would remain, only that it now applied to a larger population.
Good times = higher living standard
Higher living standard = increasing population
Increased population = more mouths to feed, less food for each mouth
For example:
Village in China in the 13th C
- Every farmer grows on average two bags of rice per family.
- Women give birth to on average four children, two of which survive to adulthood.
A new fertilizer is discovered...
- every farmer grows on average three bags of rice per family.
- more nutrition makes women more fertile: they now giver birth to five children, and four of them make it to adulthood since they now have enough to eat.
2 bags of rice/4 people = 1/2 bag of rice/person
3 bags of rice/6 people = 1/2 bag of rice per person
Same village, but heavy rains cause a poor harvest:
- The farmers yield only one bag of rice per family on average.
- Women starve and therefore only have one child on average
- On average one child per family succumbs to the famine
1 bag of rice/2 people = 1/2 bag of rice per person
In all these examples, the living standard per capita remains the same since population grows and decreases in reaction to its fluctuations
This inability to create sustained improvement in living standard, or at least improvement without automatically creating a corresponding increase in population size is called the
"Malthusian Trap"
Pre-modern societies were trapped in a situation where all economic growth was canceled out by its resulting population growth.
Result: income per capita remained almost static for all of human existence. Until....
The Great Divergence
The great divergence began in the early 18th century, and it was the first time that humankind managed to generate sustained, ongoing economic growth - a path that we are still on, and the one that enables our material plenty and our expectations of continued improvement in living standard for us and for others.
What is even more remarkable, is that this trajectory of economic growth has been matched by an exponential growth in world population....
When agriculture was invented, around 8000 BCE, the world’s population was around 5 million.
It took 8000 years for it to reach 200 million.
Only in 1818 did it reach 1 billion.
But if it had taken all of human history until 1818 to reach 1 billion, it took only 130 to reach the second billion, only 30 to reach the third and only 15 year to reach the fourth.
During the 20th century, the world's population grew from 1.65 to 6 billion.
Both population growth and economic growth has continued since the early 18th century, with only small, temporary setbacks. We have clearly
escaped the Malthusian trap!!
The topic for this lecture is to explore some theories offered to explain why this happened...
But first: where do you think it happened? What area in the world do you think was first to escape the Malthusian trap?
The first place in the world to escape the Malthusian trap were the
British Isles
Why, then, do you think that the British Isles escaped the Malthusian trap?
Because the British Isles were the first to develop industrial capitalism.
Industrialisation: transition from manual labour to mechanised labour = much higher productivity
Capitalism: economic system in which the population sell their time for/invest their capital to generate cash that they then buy food and other commodities for = enables division of labour that increases productivity
Increased productivity = more income per capita
note that I rely on a simplified version of the traditional (not the world-systems) theory of capitalism here
so much more income per capita, in fact, that it was enough to not only keep up with the growing population, but exceed the rate of growth and deliver both economic AND population growth at the same time. For the first time in human history.
This begs the question of why industrial capitalism - and the resulting great divergence - happened in Britain first...
Remember at the beginning of this unit: China was the big thing - literally
China was the first of the agrarian, contiguous Empires: mythical beginnings with the Xia dynasty in 2000BC, first verifiable dynasty was the Shang (17th to 11th centuries BC)
archeological findings confirm the existence of some civilisation at this time, but not clear if was the Xia
The Song dynasty (960-1279) was perhaps the most dynamic period of all in Chinese history:
and innumerable other inventions in the sciences and engineering.
the first government printed bills,
the use of movable type for printing text,
invention of gun powder,
And Zheng He...
Zheng He's ships were much larger than Columbus..
Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng He carried out journeys that were every bit as difficult as those the British would do in the coming century....
In 1500, Europeans were in awe of Chinese power, wealth and sophistication: pandering for their silks and their porcelain.
If any place would have suggested itself as the likely to break out of the Malthusian trap. It would have been China - not Britain. And yet Britain it was....
The British Isles were just a backwater, world leader in...
This is a contentious and hotly debated question - because it is politically sensitive.
A small number of people like to insist that Britain and Europe broke out of the Malthusian trap first because they were just plain better: this was the common explanation while Britain still had an empire, before racism became discredited with WWII.
Sometimes these theories look credible - but they are not.
The rest of this lecture I am going to go through a number of different (credible) explanations for why the great divergence began in Europe.
Most theories that try to explain why Europe diverged from the pattern of living standard and demographics that had been stable for much of human history - why Europe escaped the Malthusian trap first - focus on factors internal to Europe, for example:
- advantages generated by its natural resources
- advantages generated by its geographical scope/terrain
- advantages generated by its cultural institutions
- advantages generated by its political institutions
I am going to offer you seven different theories that explain why Europe escaped the Malthusian trap first by virtue of internal factors.
Finally I am going to suggest to you that the most plausible explanation is one that takes into account internal and external factors, and particularly the theory offered by Kenneth Pomeranz in his book "The Great Divergence".
Theories that explain why Europe escaped first
Theory #1:
(yes, the capitalism-guy)
European political institutions made it happen
- relatively free labour force (feudalism gone)
- large and productive urban population
- merchants and governments that facilitated long-distance trade and reinvestment of profits
The cross border trade resulted in an international division of labour where the stronger states focused on capital intensive production, the weaker in labour intensive production.
Britain was particularly strong in these things, and could impose its conditions on others
The great divergence
Theory # 2
Some scholars, among them E.L. Jones, argue that Europe broke out of the Malthusian trap because of its unique ability to control population growth.
The lower number of people led to an accumulation of capital per person and a society that could support more non-farmers than other populations, and therefore generate more people who were educated, urbanised and could facilitate the industrial revolution.
- Women in Europe married later than in other parts of the world: in the early to late 20s, rather than in the mid to late teens.
- more women remained unmarried than in other parts of the world
- large parts of the population who lived in celibacy for religious reasons - priests, monks and nuns
Culturally specific practices:
This combination of capital per capita and urbanised population launched the industrial revolution and broke the Malthusian equilibrium.
Problems with theory two:
- Chinese men left their homes to work
- many were widowed young an discouraged from remarrying
- female infanticide culled the number of surviving children
The family size was actually similar in European and (for example) Chinese societies. Chinese women married younger, but...
theory #3
"The Protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism"
Max Weber
(German sociologist in the early 20th century)
Protestantism generated social attitudes that were particularly conducive to hard work, saving and re-investment, and this brought about the industrial capitalism that ended the Malthusian era.
Most religions ask their most devout followers to:
1. Forsake the world
2. Reject accumulation of wealth
But Protestantism saw these things as virtuous
1. Protestantism was a religion with a "work ethic"
Everyone had to follow a vocation in their secular life, and do it with as much zeal as if they were serving their god directly.
people accumulated wealth
2. Protestantism encouraged frugal living
Wasting money on luxury consumption and goods was frowned upon.
people generated a lot of savings
3. Charity was discouraged
It was seen as furthering beggary in others
The only option was to invest the accumulated, saved capital.
In this way, the protestant work ethic was, according to Weber, one of the important forces behind he unplanned, uncoordinated mass action that set capitalism going in the 17th and 18th centuries in north western Europe.
Eventually the religious motive behind the culture dissipated, but the focus on hard work, accumulation and economic success remained a key aspect of the culture of North Western Europe and its settler colonies.
Western culture became characterised by the "spirit of capitalism" - general attitude that it was morally reprehensible to waste time and be idle.
“Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.[...]Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.”
Benjamin Franklin
Theory #4
European culture was more open to and interested in innovation.
In Song China (960-1279) innovation was at a high, but in subsequent decades it ceased to be a priority within Chinese society.
Defining innovation is very hard, and the evidence becomes almost anecdotal.
An example: The Chinese Emperor banned ship building in 1432 - despite the success of Zheng He
- Chinese education was based on rote leaning of Confucian classics
- The route to imperial service was through memorising texts, not thinking innovatively or critically = lack of inquisitiveness, and of ambition to innovate?
Europe at this time:
- Scientific revolution (empirical, not religious knowledge: look at the world, not to the bible: a bit more detail on this next week).
- Innovation a good thing (no longer a sin)
- The Chinese example (desire to make money of imitations of Chinese commodities drove innovation (Delftware)
One innovation led to the next: Watt's steam engine led to the train and the steam ship and so on...
Theory # 5
Geography and nature...
Popular historian Jared Diamond argues that the economic (and subsequent political) rise of European societies had deep roots in the natural resources of the area:
- grains like wheat and barley
- animals like horses and oxen
Early & widespread
dense population
immunity against diseases
- Jagged coastline = as much coast as Africa
- diverse, mountainous geography
development of sailing
many small states = technological & military competition
All things that led to the European edge over the rest of the world
Theory # 6
- prevalence of horses
much more horse power than other parts of the world
Britain had 1.2 million horses: the power of 6-12 million adult men
European agriculture required less men,
who were then free to trade, innovate and cause the industrial revolution
- availability of coal
Access to more/better power
(used for a long time, but often difficult to get to)
Britain had coal in convenient places, with rivers that could transport the output from the mines to the cities where coal was needed. British climate was damp, which made mining coal somewhat less dangerous, and the deposits were deep and lasted
China's coal was in the northwest, far away, on the surface in dry conditions
The problem with all these theories is that to the extent that they are actually historically well informed,
(the population size theory certainly isn't)
They don't really explain why the Great divergence happened when it did.
The Brenner thesis
Theory # 7
Class struggle in Europe shaped the necessary conditions:
- After the Black Death peasants in westerns Europe managed to free themselves from serfdom (scarcity of labour)
- In Britain the landlord's managed to retain enough power to respond by claiming the right to enclose land, make it more efficient
- this led to peasants being turned off the land
Large, free labour force to be employed in emerging industries
Innovation necessary and encouraged
Industrial Revolution
They are, perhaps,
but not
innovation, coal, power, manageable population, free labour force, political and military competition all have to be there - in some form - for industrialisation to occur. But these were around in other societies, at other times without resulting in industrialisation....
They all place the exceptionalism of Europe far back in the past, way before the great divergence actually took place
These conditions had (perhaps) to be present.
But the were not enough
Kenneth Pomeranz:
- coal and innovation mattered,
In the early 18th century Britain and the Yangtze delta were roughly comparable in all respects of development
What made Britain diverge from the path it had shared with China for thousands of years (the Malthusian path)
that it developed off shore colonies
Theory # 8:
External factors were important
- the chief obstacle for societies to escape the Malthusian trap consisted of their limited access to enough land and energy to be able to feed their population.
- No matter how sophisticated and technologically advanced a society was at his time, there was a limit to how much grain it can produce (land, labour, water intensive)
17th C Britain and Yangtze delta were both using their resources effectively to feed their population, but there was not enough to generate any kind of Malthusian take off.
Britain managed to outsource the production of land, labour and energy intensive goods to their colonies – and thereby open up completely new, untapped resources to sustain population growth and increasing living standard
Britain imported
land, labour and energy intensive goods from the New World, and paid for it with slaves and manufactured goods.

They could increase their productivity in capital intensive areas, while leaving the rest to the colonies
The triangle trade:
teensy-weensy Britain gets the flour, the lumber, the tobacco from the New World (all labour, energy, land, water intensive things to produce)
they pay for it in slaves, and in manufactured goods (clothes, furniture, books, wine, pipes, glasses - things that need capital intensive factories and machines)
According to Pomeranz it was this relationship that allowed Britain to focus on the kind of production that creates industrialisation, and in extension creates the economic development necessary to break out of the Malthusian trap
China, even if it had (to some extent) all the other necessary factors, lacked this necessary factor
China had withdrawn after Zheng He, and did not capitalise on the explorations and connections that his journeys resulted in
(because they were busy defending their land borders north, because they didn't feel the need to colonise when merchants already brought everything to them, and they didn't want much from the rest of the world)
Pomeranz's theory has a number of strenghts:
- It doesn't focus exclusively on internal or external factors
- It doesn't posit some (explicit or implicit) superiority on part of Europe
- It doesn't see the European escape from the Malthusian trap as inevitable
Other parts of the world could have done it, but for continent reasons Britain ended up managing
(relying on one or the other is too simple: historical change always has many causes - the all the cogs have to be in the right place)
To sum up:
1. In the early 18th C Britain broke out of the Malthusian era, and managed to generate sustained economic growth that outpaced the resulting population growth (escaping the Malthusian trap
2. This broke with a trend since the beginning of human history
3. Theories about this have focused chiefly on factors internal to Europe:
- Wallerstein: political institutions
- Weber: Protestantism
- Brenner: the outcome of class struggles
- Jones: population control
- Diamond: geography and resources
- others: more power (coal, horses) or more innovation
4. Pomeranz suggests some internal factors (coal, innovation) in combination with colonisation of America (allowed Britain to outsource land/labour intensive production and focus on industrialising manufacturies.
As you can see, there is no consensus...
...what do you think?
This relationship was first theorised by...
(I will also refer to it as the "Malthusian era" and the "Malthusian equilibrium".)
is one representative of this school of thought, but not the only...
Other cultural practices like religion
and were already over 7 billion today.
This commitment to innovation and improvement was, according to theory 4 the reason for the Great Divergence
The availability of power Allowed Europe to escape the Malthusian trap
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