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Personal and Professional
Honors and Memberships
Research Interests
Publications Summary
Recent Publications
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999
On-line Essays

Andre Gunder Frank

On Economic History


Andre Gunder Frank rises to accept the net's invitation to put something about economic history - indeed its very Eurocentric foundation and basis - up for review, discussion, and hopefully for modification. The following are 'short' [and partial] excerpts from my review of the 'economic history' literature, taken from the Introduction to my forthcoming book which to my knowledge is the first and so far only attempt in the past two centuries instead to do a WORLD economic history, under the title ReORIENT: GLOBAL ECONOMY IN THE ASIAN AGE, University of California Press, forthcoming. A blurb containing the table of contents, 1 page author's abstract, and 2 pp sumnmary of 8 publishers referees comments and explanation is available on request from


One might naively think that for the study of economic history as it really was, the place to turn is to economic historians. Yet they have been the worst offenders of all. The vast majority of self styled "economic historians" totally neglect the history of most the world, and the remaining minority distort it altogether. For most economic historians seem to have no perspective - not even a European one - of the world at all. Instead, their "economic history" is almost altogether confined to the West. The Study of Economic History: Collected Inaugural Lectures 1893-1970 (Edited by N.B Harte 1971) collects 21 such lectures by the most eminent English speaking economic historians. They in turn review and comment on the "economic history" written by their colleagues in the profession over most of the preceding century: Almost every word is about Europe and the United States and their "Atlantic economy," which hardly even includes Africa. The rest of the world does not exist for them.

Also in more recent decades, the International Congress of Economic History has met periodically and then published its conference proceedings. Going through their tables of contents reveals that some ninety percent of the "international" contributions are about the West. Lately, a couple of the congresses and/or volumes of proceedings have had titles like The Emergence of the World Economy 1500-1914 (Fisher, McInnis & Schneider, Eds. 1986). Yet the preponderance of the contributions are still about the West.

The author of one of the most noteworthy examples of this kind of Eurocentric economic history recently won the Nobel Prize for economics. The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History was written by the 1993 Nobel laureate in economics Douglass C. North with Robert Paul Thomas (1973). It merits special note not only for the recognition given to one of its authors, but also because of the explicitness of its title, its emphasis on "new," and the revision of received theory. Yet under their subtitles "Theory and Overview: 1. The Issue" and on the very first page, they clearly state "the development of an efficient economic organization in Western Europe accounts for the rise of the West" (North and Thomas 1973:1, my emphasis). They then trace this institutional change, and especially the development of property rights, to increased economic scarcity, which was generated in turn by a demographic upturn in Western Europe. The rest of the world was not there for them. Moreover, as North and Thomas (1973:vii) emphasize in their preface, their economic history is also "consistent with and complementary to standard neo-classical economic theory," which we may suppose influenced the award of the Nobel prize.

Their book illustrates at least three related problems and sources of possible objection: First, Eurocentrists refuse to make and are reluctant even to accept comparison with other parts of the world, which reveal similarities not only in institutions and technological but also in the structural/ demographic forces that generated them. Secondly as we will see in Chapter 4, these comparisons show that the alleged European exceptionalism was not exceptional at all. Thirdly, there will be resistance to my contention that the real issue is not so much what happened here or there, but what the global structure and forces were that occasioned these happenings anywhere, which are analyzed in Chapter 6 below.

For what is even more serious is that the small minority of economic historians who do refer to "The Rest" very seriously distort both "The East" and its economic relations with "The West." Their perspective on the "world economy" is that it emerged out of Europe and that Europe built a world economy around itself, as Braudel said that historians "knew" had happened! Take for instance a recent review article on "Maritime Asia, 1500-1800" written by Willis (1993) for the American Historical Review. Willis revealingly subtitles it "The Interactive Emergence of European Domination." He reviews over a dozen books and cites perhaps one hundred others that deal with some "interaction" between East and West. However, most of the action reviewed remains directed from Europe toward Asia, and almost none the other way around. Moreover, the claim in the reviewer's title that European "domination emerged" already from 1500 onwards to 1800 is not at all substantiated. Indeed, it is disconfirmed even by the evidence supplied by the authors that Willis himself reviews and cites. So the very title of his article still reflects Eurocentric prejudice far more than it describes reality.

Another current example of the same is the innovative publisher Variorum. It is collecting and reprinting many of the best otherwise much less accessible articles on economic history, especially about and from outside the West. Nonetheless, its newest series of books is published under the umbrella title "An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450- 1800." To promote their series the publisher cites endorsements by the "dean" of world historians, William McNeill, and by the former professor of Economic History at Oxford University, Peter Mathias, who promises that "this series will widen and deepen our understanding of the world stage." Alas, it deepens our Misunderstanding of the world stage. For even this series still carries no hint of what really happened on the world stage from 1450 to 1800: The world economy expanded alright, but primarily in Asia; and the world economic expansion impacted on Europe much more than any "impact" that Europe had on "world history" before 1800. The title of one of the edited volumes in this series is The European Opportunity. Yet the books in that series also concentrate on what Europe did, rather than on the opportunities in the world economy and especially in Asia, of which Europe only took advantage.

Eurocentrism also marks and limits even the severest critics of received Eurocentric social theory and those who argue persuasively that the wider world played a much greater role in "the rise of the west" than this theory allows. Another vivid example comes from Alan Smith (1991). His Creating a World Economy begins with charges that Weber and the usual recent suspects from North and Thomas, Rostow, and Jones to Wolf, Wallerstein, and Frank ignore, truncate or abuse the role of "the wider world" outside Europe. Alas Smith takes only a brief look at the history of this wider world in Chapter 2. For then Smith immediately turns around once again in Chapter 3 to begin his own analysis with medieval Europe. Then he arrives at 1500 AD with "lineal trends" in society and polity that led to "steady progress" [ibid:67] thanks to "technology that made continuing growth possible" [ibid:5 and also 67] - all in and from Europe! The entire remainder of the book is dedicated to "Europe in Transition: Capitalism" [Chpt.5] and its "Overseas Expansion" [Chpt. 4] into the "Peripheries and Dependencies in the World Economy" [Chpts. 6 & 7]. By again returning to seek the "creation of the world economy" and the birth and spread of "capitalism" in and from Europe, of course

many of the areas of the world still remained external to the new system. Eastern Africa, India, Ceylon, Indonesia, southeast Asia, China, Japan and the Middle East are all included in this category... [because] participation in commercial relations was discretionary and ... seems to have had little lasting impact on the structures of the respective social formations.... One should not overestimate the role of international trade in forging linkages of substance between distant lands.... Only in Europe were ... [social process of integration] carried to fruition (Smith 1991:7,11).

With this same old Eurocentric litany of course, we will never find any of the structures, processes, or forces that were "Creating a World Economy," once again to use Smith's apt title. For of course like all those he criticized for their shortcomings, this Professor Smith still looks no further in 1991 than what the dim European streetlight illuminates for him since it was put up in the nineteenth century. By contrast in 1776, his namesake had taken the Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations very much further afield -- and, as we will see especially in Chapters 3 and 6 below, showed us vastly more of "wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" (Smith 1937).

The book manuscript also contains expository critiques, far too long to be reproduced or even summarized here, of other recent - often deliberate - attempts to transcend this inherited Eurocentrism in economic history and social theory. Nonetheless s in the latter-day Smith's just cited "creating of the world economy," in these books also it was all done by the Europeans, and "many of the areas of the world still remained external to the new system." This is alas still the case in the new 'classics' like Braudel's THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE WORLD, Wallerstein's WORLD SYSTEM, Wolf's EUROPE AND THE PEOPLES WITHOUT HISTORY. The same still continues right up to 1997 in more recent conscuious efforts to transcend Eurocentrism as in Abu-Lughod's BEFORE EUROPEAN HEGEMONY [which ends in 1350 and previews a new beginning in Europe ]and Chaudhuri's ASIA BEFORE EUROPE [whose subtitle established Indian Ocean limits, and does not attempt an economic history even of that], to Blaut's COLONIZERS MODEL OF THE WORLD [1993, whose criticizes Eurocentrism but offers no replacement and attemps no world economic history], Arrighi's LONG TWENTIETH CENTURY [1994], Snooks' WAS THE INDUSTRTIAL REVOLUTION NECECSSARY? [1994] and DYNAMIC SOCIETY [1996], Sanderson's SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION [1995], Modelski & Thompson's LEADING SECTORS AND WORLD POWERS [1996], Adams' PATHS OF FIRE [1996], and Chase-Dunn & Hall's RISE AND DEMISE [1997]. Suffice it to say here that not even one of these recent efforts even attempts to do anything like an early modern economic history of the WORLD economy. All of them STILL see the 'world-economy' revolving around a European center, when in fact Europe was still no more than a marginal peninsular outpost of a REAL WORLD ECONOMY primarily based and developing in ASIA before through the eighteenth century, which foreshadows its REnewed rise to that position in the twenty-first. ALL received Eurocentric "economic history" has misled us and blinded us from seeing what was and is going on in the real world. It's time to wake up and smell the coffee [or tea!].


Now we are all - knowingly or not - disciples of this completely Eurocentric social science and history, all the more so since Talcott Parsons enshrined Weberianism in sociology and political science when the United States became economically and culturally dominant in the world after World War II. His mistitled Structure of Social Action and The Social System as well as the derived "modernization theory," and the economist W.W. Rostow's (1959) Stages of Economic Growth were all cut from the same Eurocentric cloth and followed the same theoretical pattern. Alas we may ask, what was the point? Rostow's "stages" were little more than a "bourgeois" version of Marx's stage by stage development from feudalism to capitalism to socialism -- all starting in Europe! Like Marx, Rostow claimed that now the United States, following England, would show the rest of the world the mirror of its future. Rostow (1975), also explains How it All Began: Origins of the Modern Economy through the scientific revolution that allegedly distinguished modern Europe. David Landes (1969) finds the cultural conditions for The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe only in Europe itself. Cipolla (1976:276) summarizes: "that the Industrial Revolution was essentially and primarily a socio- cultural phenomenon and not a purely technical one, becomes patently obvious when one notices that the first countries to industrialize were those which had the greatest cultural and social similarities to England."

Other authors also offer only "internal" explanations to account for the alleged superiority and ascendance of the West over the rest of the world. For these writers, the rise of Europe was also a "miracle," which was due to allegedly unique qualities that Europeans had and all others lacked. Thus, White Jr. (1962), Hall (1985) or Baechler, Hall and Mann (1988) find the rest of the world deficient or defective in some crucial historical, economic, social, political, ideological, or cultural respect in comparison to the West. The claim is that presence in "The West" of what was allegedly lacking in "The Rest" gave "us" an initial internal developmental advantage, which "we" then diffused outward over the rest of the world as the "civilizing mission" of "the white man's burden."

Marxist economic history may seem different, but it is equally, indeed even more, Eurocentric. Thus, Marxist economic historians also look for the sources of "The Rise of the West" and "the development of capitalism" within Europe. Examples are the famous debate in the 1950s on "the transition from feudalism to capitalism" among Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy, Kohachiro Takahashi, Rodney Hilton and others (reprinted in Hilton 1976) and the Brenner Debate on "European feudalism" (Aston and Philpin, Eds. 1985). De Ste. Croix (1981) on the class struggles in the ancient "Greco-Roman" civilization and Anderson (1974) on "Japanese feudalism" also considered each of these as a particular "society." Marxists may claim to devote more attention to how the economic "infrastructure" shapes society; but they show no awareness of how one "society" is shaped by its relations with another "society" and still less of how all societies were shaped by their common participation in a single world economy. The very existence of a world economic system was explicitly denied by Marx and only belatedly acknowledged by Lenin. However, his "imperialism" also was of recent European origin. In Rosa Luxemburg's version, the "world" capitalist economy had to rely on "external non-capitalist" space and markets outside of the capitalist system into which to expand.


However, there will also be more "concrete" complaints and demands by social "scientists" such as those that Wallerstein has already encountered in response to his modern "world-system." A special Eurocentric charge is that the evidence does not support their, and much less my, contention that Europeans did anything other than by their own good efforts! Years ago, Bairoch (1969,1976), O'Brien (1982) and others already explicitly countered the earlier theses of Frank (1967, 1978) and/or Wallerstein (1974) that colonial and neo-colonial trade contributed to European investment and development. Bairoch (1969) denied that commercial capital made any significant contribution thereto. Patrick O'Brien (1982,1990) has on several occasions dismissed overseas trade and colonial exploitation as contributors to capital accumulation and industrialization in Europe, since by his calculations this trade, not to mention profits therefrom, amounted to no more than 2 percent of European GNP in the late eighteenth century. O'Brien (1982:18) contends that "for the economic growth of the core, the periphery was peripheral." Yet he also goes on to argue that "neither quantification nor more historical scholarship will settle debates about the significance of oceanic trade for the Industrial Revolution" (O'Brien 1990:177).

We must actually agree with O'Brien that the evidence will never settle this issue! Not that evidence is of no importance, but it does not bear so much on the real dispute between us, which is paradigmatic. For O'Brien (ibid.) rejects even Wallerstein's only very partly world-systemic perspective. Instead O'Brien contends that for the history of European (and even British) industrialization "the 'perspective of the world' [the reference is to Braudel's title] for Europe emerges as less significant than the 'perspective of Europe' for the world." To people with so ingrained and recalcitrant a Eurocentric perspective of course, no amount of evidence, such as that marshalled in Chapters 4 and 6, can make any difference. They will simply persist in their Eurocentric claim that Europe's relations with the world made no difference to Europe but all the difference to the world! Amen!!

This Eurocentric bias also exaggerates many times over the place and role of Europe in world trade and prevents even an elementary perception of WORLD trade. For instance, Holtfrerich, Ed. (1989), still claims in his introduction that "Europe dominated throughout the whole period" (ibid:4). In his Table 1.2 (ibid:5) he claims 69 and 72 percent of all world trade in 1720 and 1750 respectively for Europe, and an additional 12 percent with Latin America, leaving only 11 and 7 percent respectively for India and 8 percent for "other." In doing so, Holtfrerich disregards even the chapter by Klein (1989) in his own book, which shows that trade in the China Seas was many multiples of that and that the Europeans participated in a no more than an insignificant part. Moreover still in 1752-54 according to figures from Steensgard (1990:150), the relatively small exports to Europe from Asia or European imports from Asia, which were a very small share of Asia's trade, remained higher than Europe's imports from the Americas. [European exports to the Americas were higher, but of course the Europeans were still unable to compete successfully with their exports elsewhere, that is in Asia].

Boswell and Misra (1995) offer another graphic illustration of how these Eurocentric blinkers and myopia not only hide most of the world economy and trade from view but also distort the perception even of the European "world-economy." First they write that in Wallerstein's and their view "despite trade connections, Africa and Asia remained external [to the world- system]. Neither logistics not long waves should apply to them" (ibid:466). Then they disagree with Wallerstein : "We think it reasonable to consider East Asian trade a leading sector in the world-system, even if Asia itself is external" (ibid:471). So they include "East Asian trade" in their calculations of "global" trade, only to find that "thousands of ships were engaged in the Baltic trade, compared to only hundreds in the Atlantic and Asian." Since the latter journeys were longer, they allot each of them greater weight in their estimations of total "global trade"(471-472). Alas, their myopia allows them to see and include in their "global" trade only the hundreds of ships in East-West trade, and not to see nor count any of the thousands in intra-Asian trade, which Holtfrerich (1989) at least included even if he vastly underestimated them. However, Boswell and Mysra also fall into another trap of their own making: First they argue "that the East Asian trade showed a different [counter-cyclical] pattern from the Atlantic and global trades supports considering the latter external" (ibid:472). They do not even consider the possibility that the "East Asian trade" that for them is only the opposite movement of East-West trade may be compensatory to the other, as in a see-saw. That would make their observation evidence rather of the opposite: Asia and its trade would be not "external" but rather internal to the system! Then their own further investigations of cyclical ups and downs accidentally show exactly that: "This finding suggests the Asian trade is more central to the capitalist world economy than expected" (ibid: 478)! Of course, what they "expected" is a function of their own Eurocentric blinkers, but it turns out that these distort even their own analysis of the "European world- system," as well as of course blinding them to the existence of a much larger world economy and trade in Asia.

By all indications, also intra-Asian trade was many multiples greater than than that of Europe, including the famous European Oriental, trans-Atlantic, and Baltic trades. For instance, Sir Joshua Childe, the Director of the British East India Company, observed still in 1688 that from some Indian ports alone [not to mention other Indian, Southeast Asian and East Asian ones], Asian trade was ten times greater than that of all Europeans put together (cited In Palat and Wallerstein 1990:26).

But Asian production AND PRODUCTIVITY, not to mention competitiveness, was much higher also. Still in 1750, the about 66 percent of the world's population who lived in Asia produced about 80 percent of the world's [GNP] output, while the other 20 percent were produced by the about 20 percent of the world's population living in Europe and the remaining about 14 percent of world pupulation in Africa and the Americas, who also contributed to the European GNP. That is, Asian production remained far higher than that of Europe, and Asian and especially Chinese and Indian productivity was also much far superior.

In conclusion, the Asian economy and intra-Asian trade continued on vastly greater scales than European trade and its incursions in Asia until the nineteenth century. Or in the words of Pearson and Das Gupta in their India and the Indian Ocean 1500-1800,

a crucial theme is that while the Europeans obviously were present in the ocean area, their role was not central. Rather they participated, with varying success, in an on- going structure.... [In] the sixteenth century, the continuity is more important in the history of the Indian Ocean than the discontinuities which resulted from the Portuguese impact (Pearson and Das Gupta 1987:1,31).

Even the European[ist] Braudel had long insisted that the world economic center of gravity did not even begin to shift westward until after the end of the sixteenth century, and it did not arrive there until the end of the eighteenth and indeed during the nineteenth centuries. Indeed, "the change comes only late in the eighteenth century, and in a way it is an endogamous game. Europeans finally burst out, and changed this structure, but they exploded from within an Asian context" (Das Gupta and Pearson 1987:20).

Thus, despite their access of American money to buy themselves into the word economy in Asia, for three centuries the Europeans still remained a small player who had to adapt to - and not make ! - the world economic rules of the game in Asia. Moreover, Asians continued to compete successfully in the world economy. How could they do so if, as the received Eurocentric "wisdom" has it, Asians lacked science, technology and the institutional base to do so? The answer is that Asians did not "lack" any of these and instead often excelled in the same as well, as documented elsewhere in Chapter 4.


Thus, even the recent only part-worldly analysis a la Braudel and Walerstein [and the earlier Frank] has already provoked strong resistance and counter-attacks from the defenders of previous social theory. How much more resistance and counterattack then will a still more holistically global analysis provoke, which turns the tables not only on most received theory but also on their own revisionism thereof?

Several instances of such resistance in this dispute readily come to mind. Eric Wolf (1982) is rightly critical of others' neglect of the impact of Europe [on] the People Without History. He shows that people outside Europe did have histories of their own and how the expansion of Europe impacted on them. However, he still underestimates their mutual impact on each other; and he does not ask how the one world in which all participate together impacts on each of them. Moreover he retains, indeed even resurrects, the primacy of "modes of production," from kinship, to tributary, to capitalist based ones. That, I contend, still diverts attention from where it is most needed on the whole world system as a whole, as analyzed in Chapters 3 and 6.

Braudel's "Perspective of the World" since 1500 is broader than most. Yet he too divided the world into a "European world- economy" and several other and separate external "world- economies" outside the same. Braudel did, of course, also study and describe at least parts of these "other" world economies, especially in Volume III of his trilogy on Civilization & Capitalism. Indeed, so did Marx in his own Volume III of Capital! Yet both neglected to incorporate the findings of their third volumes into the model and theory of their first volumes. Moreover, their neglect was quite conscious, intentional and deliberate: Their Eurocentrism convinced both that any and all historical model and social theory, be it universal or not, must be based on the experience of Europe alone. Their only concession was that Europe and its model did have consequences for the rest of the world.

It was Immanuel Wallerstein's (1974) The Modern World-System [and if I may say so also my own simultaneously written - vide the preface above - World Accumulation and the companion Dependent Accumulation (Frank 1978a,b)] that sought to systematize these consequences of European expansion and "capitalist" development for both Europe and the rest of the world. Both books emphasized the negative "underdeveloping" impact of European expansion in many other parts of the world and their contribution in turn to capital accumulation and development in Europe and then also in North America. Wallerstein focused more on the core-periphery structure of the system, which of course I also recognized under the terms center-satellite; and I focused more than he on the structurally related cyclical dynamic in the system.

Both of us, Wallerstein (1974, 1980, 1989) and Frank (1978 a,b), however limited our modelling and theoretical analysis to the structure and process in the modern "world" economy/system. We saw and Wallerstein still sees this system as centered in Europe and expanding from there to incorporate more and more of the rest of the world in its own European based "world" economy. That is the limitation of this Wallersteinian/Frankian theory: It cannot adequately encompass the whole world economy/system, as long as it remains still Eurocentrically confined to only a part, and not even the major part, of the whole world economy. It may be of some empirical/historical use to show how "our" system incorporated the Americas and parts of Africa into itself "early" on in the sixteenth century already, and other parts of the world only after 1750.

However, this European based model of a "world" system is theoretically not only insufficient but downright contrary to the whole real world economic/ systemic theory that we really need. Alas, that does not yet exist, and one of the reasons it does not is precisely because we have all, Marx, Weber, Polanyi, and still Braudel, Wallerstein and Frank looked under the European streetlight. However worldly we sought to be, our own still latent if not manifest Eurocentrism made us think that that is where we ought to look for evidence and construct our theory. Many other students, pity for them, may not have thought about it at all and only look there because thanks to the former and others the [European and North American] theoretical and empirical light shines brighter there.

Wallerstein (1974) did even more to incorporate the mutual relations of the European core and its periphery elsewhere in the world, in that he addresses the structure and transformation of a single political economic division of labor and its impact on core and periphery alike. However until 1750, most of the world still remains outside of his "modern world-system" and the Braudelian/ Wallersteinian "European world-economy" on which it rests. In his perspective, Europe's expansion did incorporate parts of Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas into the world- economy/ system. However as Wallerstein explicitly explains, this economy was only world-like, and not at all world-encompassing For in his view, West-, South-, and East- Asia, and indeed Russia, were only incorporated into this European world-economy/ system after 1750. So Wallerstein's "world-system" perspective, theory and analysis not only does not encompass most of the world before that. He even claims explicitly that most of the world, including all of Eurasia east of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe played no significant part in his "world-economic/system" history.

Therefore of course, Wallerstein's very limited history and theory of the modern "world" economy and system also precludes itself from coming to grips with the real world economic system. Most of that remained outside his purview until 1750, even though what happened there was highly determinant of developments inside the Braudel/Wallerstein "European world- economy/system," as this book seeks to demonstrate especially in Chapters 3,4, and 6. To have or get even the remotest chance to study and understand the genesis, structure and function, not to mention transformation and development, in this real world economy and system, we need an altogether more holistic theory and analysis, such as that presented in chapter 6. However, Wallerstein (1991,1992,1993) has already several times demurred to any such amendment of world system analysis. Again in (Wallerstein 1995), he writes "Hold the Tiller Firm!" against any and all "nomothetic," "idiographic," and "reifying" revisionism.

Even James Blaut (1991,1993a) resists holistic analysis of world economic development and its continuity despite his above cited debunking of the myth of "the European Miracle" and his insistence that the Europeans still had no innate advantages over Asians in 1500. So do others despite their long term Eurasian historical perspectives, including Sanderson's (1995) comparison between Japan and Britain, Modelski and Thompson's (1996) discovery of long Kondratieff cycles in Song China [see Chapter 5 below], and Chase-Dunn and Hall's [1997] analysis of different "world system" modalities during the past ten thousand and more years. Nonetheless, all of them still insists that a sharp "break" in world history occurred around 1500, not only because Europeans found the Americas and new way to the Orient in 1492 and 1498; but because that initiated the development of capitalism in Europe, and its dissemination from there. The abundant evidence in Chapters 2 and 4 question the very basis of this position.

Table of Contents
Personal and Professional
Honors and Memberships
Research Interests
Publications Summary
Recent Publications
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999 On-line Essays

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