Andre Gunder Frank
Response to Peer Vries Review
|Table of Contents
Personal and Professional
ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
On the New World Order
AGF on the Internet
|Peer Vries' review "Should we really ReORIENT?" appeared in ITINERARIO
European Journal of Overseas History [Leiden] XXII, 3 (1998): 19-36.
Peer Vries asks "Should we really ReORIENT?" He never really tells us but instead like my political science professor fifty years ago answers 'yes and no, with certain reservations." Fortunately for me, he certainly does not say no with no reservations, but rather yes with some reservations"--"again I think Frank has truth on his side [p.24]" I accept with thanks. Vries does however give a careful reading and quite accurate summary rendering of the argument in the book. I wish I could have done as well myself. Then he sets out his legitimate reservations about the same within the universe of discourse that the book sets out, which he also accepts. Unlike so many reviewers, he does not discuss a book that was not written and/or set up only straw men to knock down. For all that, the author and our readers can only be very thankful to Vries, and it behooves the author also to take his critiques and reservations seriously, that is to attempt to use them constructively. Unfortunately in his good effort to be critical, Vries also makes several factually wrong attributions to me, some of which bear correction.
Of his sixteen pages of review, Vries uses the first six almost exclusively to summarize the construction of the argument. I say 'almost' because Vries interjects his own short evaluations along the way, all of which are positive total agreements, except for two small only half agreements. These are on p.21 that instead of labor productivity it would be better to measure and compare total factor productivity. Of course I agree, if only because my PhD dissertation already proposed this concept over 40 years ago, when as a pioneer therein I invented the term 'general productivity' and measured it for Ukraine before the chair of my department at the University of Chicago re-baptized it total productivity of all factors of production, for which unfortunately we still lack the necessary data in this world economic case. But we should certainly improve out data bases to that end. The second half agreement is that Vries accepts my productivity and income comparisons between Europe and Asia, but charges that they are dead or at least moribund horses, because even Europeans knew they were poor compared to Asia before 1800, and two or three Europeans have shown the same statistically since then. But I devoted several pages to quoting what Leibnitz and other Europeans knew, and I myself used the recent statistics. Moreover, the European horse is still quite alive and kicking, witness that the very David Landes whom Vries holds up as a counterpoint is still riding these same horses in full gallop - but in the wrong direction, and in total disregard of the contrary estimates of his friend and Eurocentric ally Paul Bairoch, with whom as with Landes also I recently discussed them over lunch. I on the other hand USE and cite the estimates of my critic Bairoch and also those of Maddison, whom I especially asked for his unpublished ones, which he sent me dated in 1993. With Goldstone, whom Vries also cites, I of course had many back & forth discussions that are cited in the book, which alas it is no longer possible to have with Braudel.
The real trouble is that no one has really troubled to try to construct data series for the period before 1750, because it was supposed that nothing happened in the world economy before that to make doing so worthwhile. Indeed the same Patrick O'Brien, whom Vries cites favorably on the following pages and I also several times unfavorably, alleged still in 1997 that there was no world economy before 1846. Generously however, O'Brien now wrote me on 18 December 1998 "you now occupy the high ground with une grande these and it will take some scholarly artillery to dislodge your position. The book is clearly worthy of prolonged and serious discussion."
I am grateful to Vries for beginning to do just that. He at least accepts the plausibility of my Europe/Asia comparisons ,and he at least entertains the possibility that there really was a world economy worthy of analysis, which also may have had a bearing on its European, Asian and other parts. The question is, what bearing? On that, Vries voices a major reservation about my argument that is also clearly worthy of serious discussion . He says I give Europe short shrift, and Asia long shrift. Yes I do if only because we already have libraries full long shrift on Europe, and virtually no shrift on Asia in the world economy [see my critical review of the 998 page 1997 book that pretends to be but is not on ASIA IN WESTERN AND WORLD HISTORY: A GUIDE FOR TEACHING ,New York: ME Sharpe publisher]. Vries grants - as did most of the about 100 participants in the 'Landes/Frank' May/June 1998 electronic discussions [archived by economic history, h-asia, h-world nets] - that the Europe/Asia disjunction did not really occur until after 1800 [and not already before 1400, as most historians allege and Landes still claims]. Hence, ReOrient is not just half empty, since even establishing that and posing the question why that changed in the century between 1750 and 1850 can already also be said to be a glass half full and thus much fuller by Vries's standards than the received wisdom. Moreover, my glass is waiting for Vries among others to filled it up yet more,. By posing and answering the following three major questions :
Vries strangely both accepts global analysis at least as an attempt and also joins those who rejected it altogether and adds that "Frank gives me no reason to think O'Brien c.s. is mistaken." Whatever Vries's reason may be, I am glad that at least O'Brien himself has now found some reason to try to marshall scholarly artillery against my high ground. Vries marshalls [has?] none and certainly no new guns or ammunition whatsoever and does not even try systematically to refute my theses, most of which in fact he regards as by and large correct. So why does he simply appeal to the old authority of O'Brien and Bairoch? The real task is to de-and re-construct this world historical process, which Bairoch has still failed even to attempt in his new 1500 page 3 volume 'world' economic history published in 1997, and also cited in mine. That task includes especially posing and answering the question of whether there WAS a world economy or not and whether it had a 'center' or not. Vries chides me for replacing Eurocentrism by 'Sinocentrism.' But although I employ such terms in quotation marks, the entire book shows and many times re-iterates that there really was NO such center. So here Vries and I agree again. Where we disagree is on the benefit of my repeated repetition of my thesis. But perhaps Vries is right about that; since he still reads 'China' and 'Asia' despite my repeated insistence on GLOBALism in both fact and theory.
Even so, Vries and I also seem to agree, as a minority of two plus a few [though on p.25 he again denies it], that not only was there a world economy before 1800, but that its structure, operation and development bears examination and analysis. Indeed, that is the sine qua non also for identifying any possible special qualities of the mammal Europeans, whose 'specialty' itself was derived from the development of the world economy and its Braudelian conjuncture. But since this book only just begins this world economic examination and analysis, I can of course only agree with Vries when he writes [p.35] that "it will not come as a surprise I think [that] Frank's explanation of the non-industrialization of the East leaves SOME questions unanswered- to put it mildly. His explanation of the Industrial Revolution in England I, am afraid leaves MOST of the fundamental questions unanswered." YES indeed, but at least it also leaves some of the fundamental questions posed, which is a lot more than anyone can say for Landes, with which "a comparison forces itself on every reader" [p.34].
For instance, Landes does not deal with population demographics at all, as William McNeill especially criticized him for. At least Vries can take issue with my comparisons and analyses of population growth and its relation to resources, factor prices, and world economic competition, etc. In this regard, Vries argues that population grew in little England ,even if not elsewhere in Europe, as fast as in all of China, but he does not point out how incomparable they are. Instead he chides me for not showing what economic 'necessity' generated population growth in the latter and India. Perhaps I did not, since I focused instead on the fact that high economic growth there made POSSIBILE the population growth that was more than two times higher than in Europe. Vries also refers to my observation and analysis of the inflection in European population growth rates around 1750. Vries legitimately finds that my analysis could and should be improved, but he does not do it. Perhaps someone else can, despite the failure so far in all their attempts by the most experienced demographers that I cite in my world "demographic economic model."
Less legitimate is Vries's attempt to score points with low blows: alledging to your unsuspecting reader that I said wrong or absurd things that I did not or setting up some irrelevant staw men for him to knock down. On p. 26 he says that in 1800 Europe was definitely more developed than in 1400. Well, who ever denied that? But the question here is whether development had advanced MORE in Europe than in Asia and especially China. But on p. 27 Vries first confuses this issue and then falsely states that urbanization and work outside agriculture decreased in China from the seventeenth century onward. All recent research shows the opposite: In this period, China grew faster than Europe. On p. 28, that "Frank is often rather vague in his chronology." On the contrary, one of my methodologies is to USE precise chronology which Vries does not; but when I do so especially in chapter 5 on horizontal integration and cycles, Vries does not like it. On p. 29 Vries "gathered from Frank's own explanation" that the West CAUSED the decline of the East. But my 12 page section [in Chapter 6] on "The Decline of the East Preceeded the Rise of the West" says exactly the opposite; and in any case the entire chapter argues as does its opening epigraph that "to avoid the challenge of a GLOBAL perspective is to abdicate in the fact of the historian's central task." On p. 31, Vries claims that "as we saw, lack of capital does figure in his [Frank's] list of causes for Asia's non-industrialization." Where did Vries see that? I made no such list; and if I had, putting capital on it would have contradicted both the evidence and my argument about Asia, although I did say that about Africa and Latin America. On p. 32 ff, Vries claims that I cannot legitimately sustain that there was a single competitive global economy and that it evokes different responses in different places : "Frank wants to have the best of both worlds. You just can't have it both ways." Alas, we must. If I or others could chose only the best, we probably would. But unfortunately it is precisely global economic competion that does not give us that choice, then or now, in Leiden and or in Luanda. At least Vries concedes [p.32] that "Frank is of course aware" that political and military means also weigh in the balance. Alas, Vries seems not to be aware of how that strengthens my argument of why who invested in and used what technology where and when. "The West forced its way into specific markets the clearest example being India, although the same policy was also tried in China" although with little success even still today.
Vries also voices a few critiques that are less substantive but more procedural and I hope minor. For instance, that I " do not recoil [from] making people say what they do not say" [p.35]. Et tu Brutus? Regarding me, Vries exemplifies his claim with his last footnote:"I would be surprised if for example Goldstone, Wong or Elvin would fully agree with the way their work is interpreted AND fitted into Frank's thesis [p.38,n. 63]" Well so would I be surprised, since if they agreed fully with what I write, they could and should themselves have written what I did, all the more so since each of them is vastly more qualified to do so than me. But about their agreement or not, Vries and I can let them speak for themselves. What I can assure Vries and our readers of is that each of the three and I have had one [Elvin] to several public and private face to face meetings during and since my writing, and almost continuous e-mail correspondence, in which they have voiced some differences, and why not, but none of them has ever expressed any objection or disagreement to me about how I have used their work. Regarding Bairoch's numbers, of course I deliberately use them to do what he does not say about the world economy; but for that reason I also personally handed him a copy of the book right after receiving one myself last summer, and he has not yet raised any procedural objections.
Vries also dislikes my 'name-calling' and that "Frank has written a book that is exasperatingly repetitive and disputatious" [p.35]. Yes indeed. Would that I could simply have written a book that simply tells it as it is or was. But such a simply expository book would have been simply dismissed as being simply about the dreary old period of 1400 to 1800. Unfortunately it is only by my having repeatedly disputed two hundred years of received wisdom with the names of its authors that it is possible for Vries to write his review as he has and to end it by saying " despite, and because of, its flaws this book deserves to be taken seriously. [p.35]. So I end this response to Vries with my perhaps 'exasperatingly repetitive' thanks and with a quotation of the closing paragraph of my preface [my p. xxix] "At least I need not fear that any of my readers may be fooled into seeing a nonexistent solidity here. Surely, they will note that this book is full of holes. I do hope, however, not to shunt all of their research elsewhere, and I invite them to use at least some of it to help fill these holes - and to dig up new ones of their own." And I repeat again, I will be thankful as well to Peer Vries for doing that also in his own "book on the rise of the West" [p.127].
|Table of Contents
||Personal and Professional
||ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
||On the New World Order|
||AGF on the Internet
Andre Gunder Frank Website is hosted by The Róbinson Rojas Archive