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Personal and Professional
Honors and Memberships
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
Essays on NATO and Kosovo
Contact A.G. Frank
Andre Gunder Frank
Review of The Great Divergence
This book makes, bar none, the biggest and most important contribution to our new understanding of the causes and mechanisms that brought about THE GREAT DIVERGENCE between the West and the Rest and China in particular. Other academics and pundits like Samuel Huntington  who coined this phrase still deal in civilizational differences and clashes and David Landes  still trots out the same tired old shibboleths about alleged cultural differences to explain THE WEALTH AND POVERTY OF NATIONS. Pomeranz's colleague Bin Wong draws on European and Chinese evidence properly to reject all this a- indeed anti- historical Euroocentric nonsense. Although his CHINA TRANSFORMED  does so with important new data, he also still confines his analysis to a comparative method that seeks out allegedly crucial differences to explain the great divergence.
Pomeranz instead offers an entirely new and refreshing departure. Although he alios makes new comparisons between Europe, China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia and India; Pomeranz's analysis also connects all these and more in a bold new sweep that should immediately make all previous and most contemporary related work obsolescent. His well documented comparisons, like some of Wong's also, demonstrate that the respectively moat advanced Chinese regions matched or bested European ones in standard of living and especially the most important one, that is length of life itself; in consumption of calories from grain and even from sugar, as well as of household goods and textiles; in storage, distribution and availability of grain to counter climatically induced famines; in quantities of long-distance grain shipments that were multiples of those through the Baltic; in textile production and earnings of textile workers; and in commercialization of the economy and especially of agriculture, including markets in land, labor, inputs, products and credit. In all of these and other respects, Pomeranz shows that seventeenth and eighteenth China - and also Japan and in many ways Southeast Asia and India - were fully as or more developed - and "capitalist" if the term then retains any meaning - than Europe. However, Pomeranz also insists that properly Western or even all of Europe should be compared to only a region of China such as the Yangze Valley.
But more importantly still, Pomeranz also goes beyond simple comparisons and ends book by writing that it "has shown that rather than pretend we are seeing differences among truly independent entities on the eve of industrialization, we must acknowledge the importance of pre-existing connections in creating those differences." And so he has. In a tour de force through a veritable gold mine of his own and others' original and also secondary data, Pomeranz uses and even develops and combines new micro- and macro- economic, ecological and counter-factual analytic tools of analysis to mine, refine, connect and relate his rich ores in China, Europe, Africa, the Americas, indeed the world. Although his multivariate analysis is too sophisticated and intricate to do justice to here, fundamentally his argument rests on two main pillars, ecological and input saving/substitution - also with ecological ramifications.
The ecological damage of previous growth ravaged both China and Europe and especially their forests and therefore their supplies of wood, thus driving up its [opportunity] price, particularly with respect to coal as an alternative. Fortunately however, in Britain coal deposits were located near potential industrial users, while the northeast Chinese coal deposits were so far from the coastal population and industrial centers as to make their use uneconomic. Therefore, coal driven industrialization as in Britain did not begin in China and also not in relatively coal poor India, nor for that matter in the Netherlands that had to depend on peet.
The other pillar of Pomeranz's argument is that Europe and particularly Britain derived huge benefits from its overseas colonies. But his argument is far more sophisticated than one of simple exploitation and capital drain a la Marx, Eric Williams or the Wallerstein/Frank world systemises. Pomeranz argues- and constructs numeric estimates to show - that the import of virtually free calories from the sugar/slave plantations [and he might have added cod fisheries] obviated their production in Europe, where they wold have further increased t costs of production imposed by already h and ever increasing land and wood deriva fuel constraints. A fortiori, the use of American timber and shipping reduced the need to cut down even more forests and make wood and fuel all the more scarce in Europe and particularly in Britain. The import of ctton textiles from India had analogous effects: Though cotton may not have replaced wool, it certainly obviated an alterative increase in wool production, and therefore of sheep 'that ate men' as well as grass, which would otherwise have had to be grown with still more enclosures and even more deforestation. But how did Europe pay for its imported cotton textiles from India and of china from China, etc? Exclusively with silver also derived at low cost from its American colonies.
Therefore Pomeranz argues, in Europe the land constraint was relieved by imports from its external periphery, which at the same time also became a captive market for its labor intensive manufactures and the re-export of textiles from Asia. Later of course, these peripheries would supply even more land- intensive - and in Europe land-saving! - cheap commodities, especially cotton and wheat and then alos meat, while also absorbing 60 millions of Europe's surplus population. By contrast, the much more internal Chinese periphery was able to pursue an import substation policy from early on, which simultaneously deprived the Chinese manufacturing centers of markets and by stimulating local demand there reduced the export supply and increased the import price of commodities to these centers from their interior peripheries. Thus Pomeranz shows how Europe's overseas regions ameliorated its ecological and Malthusian constraints as China's and other Asian peripheries never could.
With this kind of new data and analysis, Pomeranz becomes the most important, accomplished and hopefully the most influential member of what Jack Goldstone has called the new "California School" of historians writing on China and the world, including Bin Wong, von Glahn [on money 1997], Dennis Flynn and Arturo Giraldez [on silver 1998], Robert Marks [on South China ecology 1997] with honourary membership generously extended to me [for China in the global economy 1998]. As the proponent of the latter, my critique if it is one of Pomeranz , or perhaps better my encouragement to him, is to extend his analysis even further. All of us agree that industrialization and great divergence were not the teleological result of allegedly pre- existing cultural and institutional diffes and European "exceptionalisms." Instead we agree - in a minority of still only a half dozen ? - that this process emerged only around 1800 and not earlier as the contingent localized reactions at one end of Eurasia to a highly complex set of interrelated circumstances in the world as a whole in the absence of which Europe wold most probably have continued on much like the rest of Eurasia. The task therefore is to search out and demonstrate the place, role and importance of these pre- existing and newly generated GL SYSTEMIC connections and their structure and dynamic in creating regional, sectoral, and class differences in the wealth and poverty of nations. Pomeranz brilliantly illuminates the way for others to follow and one day also to transcend his pioneering work.
Andre Gunder Frank
University of Miami
Table of Contents||
Personal and Professional||
Honors and Memberships||
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age||Essays on NATO and Kosovo, 1999||
On-line Essays||Contact A.G. Frank|