Before and Beyond Divergence: The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe

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Overview

China has reemerged as a powerhouse in the global economy, reviving a classic question in economic history: why did sustained economic growth arise in Europe rather than in China?

Many favor cultural and environmental explanations of the nineteenth-century economic divergence between Europe and the rest of the world. This book, the product of over twenty years of research, takes a sharply different tack. It argues that political differences which crystallized well before 1800 were responsible both for China’s early and more recent prosperity and for Europe’s difficulties after the fall of the Roman Empire and during early industrialization.

Rosenthal and Wong show that relative prices matter to how economies evolve; institutions can have a large effect on relative prices; and the spatial scale of polities can affect the choices of institutions in the long run. Their historical perspective on institutional change has surprising implications for understanding modern transformations in China and Europe and for future expectations. It also yields insights in comparative economic history, essential to any larger social science account of modern world history.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

With its sustained, rigorous economic analysis and frequently compressed exposition of complex arguments, this taut monograph is a formidable but rewarding read. Rosenthal and Wong boldly tackle one of the most challenging questions in comparative economic history: why did sustained economic growth arise in Europe rather than China? The authors systematically demolish conventional narratives touting the superiority of European political, social, and economic institutions over their Chinese counterparts. They find convincing explanations for Sino-Western divergence in contrasting processes of long-term political development originating centuries before Europe's industrial revolution. Over the course of a millennium, the huge size, prosperity, and relative stability of China's empire conferred significant economic advantages that long eluded Europe's fragmented, bellicose polities. Rosenthal and Wong nonetheless conclude that the costly military competitions that habitually distorted European history had unintended consequences. By impelling urbanization and a demand for capital-using technologies, Europe's constant wars rather than China's long peace laid the groundwork for modern economic growth.
— R. P. Gardella

Kenneth Pomeranz
Before and Beyond Divergence addresses the old 'Why Europe? Why not China?' question by presenting clear, original, and provocative arguments. It is an important contribution, both substantively and methodologically.
Timothy W. Guinnane
An important contribution that will force a wide variety of scholars to rethink what they know about both China and Europe and that lays out a model for doing big comparative research projects in the social sciences.
Choice - R. P. Gardella
With its sustained, rigorous economic analysis and frequently compressed exposition of complex arguments, this taut monograph is a formidable but rewarding read. Rosenthal and Wong boldly tackle one of the most challenging questions in comparative economic history: why did sustained economic growth arise in Europe rather than China? The authors systematically demolish conventional narratives touting the superiority of European political, social, and economic institutions over their Chinese counterparts. They find convincing explanations for Sino-Western divergence in contrasting processes of long-term political development originating centuries before Europe's industrial revolution. Over the course of a millennium, the huge size, prosperity, and relative stability of China's empire conferred significant economic advantages that long eluded Europe's fragmented, bellicose polities. Rosenthal and Wong nonetheless conclude that the costly military competitions that habitually distorted European history had unintended consequences. By impelling urbanization and a demand for capital-using technologies, Europe's constant wars rather than China's long peace laid the groundwork for modern economic growth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057913
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Pages: 290
  • Sales rank: 1,248,733
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean-Laurent Rosenthal is the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics at the California Institute of Technology.

R. Bin Wong is Professor of History and Director of the Asia Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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