Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When China ruled the world

Greg Mankiw quotes Michael Milken writing in the Wall Street Journal:
China and India combined to produce nearly half the world's economic output in 1820 compared to just 1.8% for the U.S. Our remarkable growth since 1820 has benefited from democratic institutions, a belief in capitalism, private property rights, an entrepreneurial culture, abundant resources, openness to foreign investment, the best universities, immigration and relatively transparent markets.

It's hard to imagine a world half of whose output was Chinese and Indian. Those were the days when China dominated the world and when India really was the jewel in the British Crown. The truly amazing historical event is how one hundred years later both India and China would become synonymous with economic underdevelopment, a collapse that was probably caused and simultaneously the cause of European colonialism. It was the diffuse weakness of a vast country like China that allowed parts of its territory to be occupied even by small European countries like Portugal (Macao). In turn, European colonialism probably exacerbated the worst trends in their cultures. One effect, from the world is still recovering, would be to increase the stock of nominally "anti-imperialist" ideologies like Marxism (which presented themselves as Third World champions while ironically inheriting the world's largest empire, that of the Czars). For years after the Second World War, newly independent countries would be led on by this fraud, and apply central planning and socialist models to their economies and cause even greater damage than had been wrought by European colonialism.

The late 20th century marked the moment when former colonies threw off the last intellectual chains of colonialism. India finally rejected the last European fetter of socialism, and freely chose a market economy. At the same time the Arab world was also ditching socialism, which in its heyday took the form of Nasserism and gave rise to a plethora of quasi-Marxist "liberation" terrorist groups, but in finding a replacement reached not towards a market economy and democratic institutions, to 8th century Islam and sharia. Either way, the 21st became the first truly post-European century in nearly half a millenium. What is less obvious is that America too, drifted away from Europe. Part of the tension between GWB and its Transatlantic of World War 2 is due not only to substantive differences between European capitals and Washington, but to a real divergence in the West. The West is no longer unilaterally headquartered in Europe. The ideas that were spawned there have drifted across the world and have become the property of mankind.

18 Comments:

Blogger sfrcook said...

Wretchard says: "The West is no longer unilaterally headquartered in Europe. The ideas that were spawned there have drifted across the world and have become the property of mankind."

While I might take issue with notion that China "ruled the world" in 1820, the point made in the post is a stinging rebuke to those who believe that there is something inherent in Islam, or any other non-western culture for that matter, that is incompatible with modernity as we know it.

Similar pessimistic, cynical claims have been voiced in the past and been proven wrong, as they will be proven wrong again. Some have argued that we are currently using only a fraction of the tools available to us(the military option) in our fight with an implaccable enemy. Yet, in the same breath, chide us for being hopelessly naive in utilizing our most appealing non-military tool, namely our cherished beliefs and values.

Others claim that we are too pre-occupied with trying to transplant our values, and should focus more on the military aspects of our current struggle, arguing that Islam is inherently unable to absorb values of the West. But as Wretchard points out, nothing precluded Islamic societies from adopting some of the Wests worst pathologies, why should it not now adopt its most admirable virtues.

9/19/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

In the early-middle 19th Century, the putative economic advantage of China and India was purely quantitative. These cultures (not "states") were simply large. India for centuries had fallen prey to Muslim conquerors, aka Moghuls, who had no more innovative or progressive tendencies that does Islam today. After the Chieng-lung Emperor, a dynast fatally in awe of status quo,the Middle Kingdom faced two centuries of egregious warlordism and murderous totalitarian supression of every human decency.

In 1840, America's "2 percent" of global output was in fact 80 - 90% of qualitative global economic progress. Photography, telegraph lines, railroads originated in Europe, but Matthew Brady, Morse, the Vanderbilts did more with these in twenty years than Europe did before the 1900s. From mechanized agriculture to scientific medicine, not to say Edison's "invention" of the research laboratory, U.S. innovations represented a wholly disproportionate share of ongoing global progress.

Strange, is it not, that literally no political, social, or other cultural/philosophical ideas have ever originated in Chinese or Indian "powerhouses"? Recall Chandrasekar and Ramanujan, imported West before Indian countrymen would so much as look at them... and from China, even through today, despite skilled technologists as such, nothing but sophisticated nuts-and-bolts emerge.

Feynman said of Latin America, "There is no science there." We say of China and India, "by any consistent, rational standard, these countries for 175 years minimum have contributed essentially nothing."

As for the Muslim polities "star-scattered on the grass", there has been not even a pretense of development. Absent vats of petro-dollars, they would remain one with Ninevah and Tyre. When oil becomes a marginal commodity, "radical Islam" will subside into the civilizational cesspool from whence it came. Bereft of any semblance of perspective or goodwill, its sadistic Mullocracies deserve nothing, and will receive it all.

One qualitative culture outstrips 100 "hydraulic" ones. Even economists of the London School have finally admitted that.

9/19/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

The ideas of Western Liberalism have indeed been spread across the planet like a drifting seed, taking root wherever the soil and climate allowed it fragile roots purchase. It is interesting to ponder that anti-colonial reactionism has drawn Narcissist states into experiments of their own brand of Marxism and socialism and how these experiments have, by and large, left vast political regions economically moribund but politically intransigent. Chavez most know down deep that his economic experiment is destined for tragedy, but that the “struggle” represents the pride and inspirations of a down trodden people and is, therefore, all that matters. Reactionary leaders will succeed when the ignorance, rancor and rejection of the masses meet at the polling booth. Enter the anti-exceptionalism of mainstream Muslim religious autocracy and you get a querulous, faith-oriented Fascism.

9/19/2006 03:22:00 PM  
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9/19/2006 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Pyrthroes,

Absolutely wonderful points. Though I should think that in 1820 Europe was still at the real cutting edge of knowledge generation. Even in the early 20th century, many Americans saw a degree in Germany, England or France as a place to learn "real" science.

In one early scheme to signal to Martian life, so prevalent in the early 20th century, one proposal was to use French, which was seriously regarded as the "language of civilization", and not, as it has become since, the language of the French. Tennyson's famous line "better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay" encapsulated that dynamic confidence. Where did it go?

One theory is that it lies in the mud of the Somme. That the bullet went through the heart of Europe then and it has spent these many decades dying with its eyes open.

But I don't know that Europe, any more than China, is permanently doomed. Europe, like China of 1900, has the elements of greatness, but encrusted with its chains. Who knows what the future will bring. It may rediscover itself through India and China.

9/19/2006 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Peripherally on topic, democracy in Iraq has made unsteady progress. There was more than a glimmer of hope when we could see progress in the River campaigns and were watching the astounding progress of “standing up” the Iraqi army. As the Sunni’s have been effectively squelched, the Shiites have managed to fill the vacuum with revenge, but as Mac Owens notes, the Shiia, by and large, are supporting democracy.

NRO

9/19/2006 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

"Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings, as she can. What a colossus we shall be."

Thomas Jefferson

For the truly gifted, our present was obvious even in 1816.

9/19/2006 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Cornelius said...

sfcrook,

Pathologies are common to all societies. It's the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, to have the worlds societies adopt the West's most admirable virtues is a far trickier proposition. Some, you could argue, have the decked stacked against them.

9/19/2006 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger Extraneus said...

The subtext is always related to the prospect of Islam actually succeeding, converting by the sword those societies unwilling to sacrifice the yoke of political correctness to defend what many within them consider unworthy. Pondering the potential for the barbarians' seemingly unlikely success, as I know you folks have, one is left counting the leaders willing to fight -- be they national or religious -- on one hand. Bush, being obviously one of this few, is an exceedingly transitory figure. What are Islam's prospects if his successor isn't equally simple-minded? Could they be worse than Europe's?

9/19/2006 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger dirty dingus said...

In 1820 the only industrialized nation (and a partial one at that) was Britain. Britain was first, then Germany and the US followed swiftly. Hence their economic dominationat the end of the 19th centruy. The French were somewhat slower. The only Asian nation that figured out it needed to do the same was Japan...

9/20/2006 02:30:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

Wretchard said: "It's hard to imagine a world half of whose output was Chinese and Indian. Those were the days when China dominated the world and when India really was the jewel in the British Crown. The truly amazing historical event is how one hundred years later both India and China would become synonymous with economic underdevelopment, a collapse that was probably caused and simultaneously the cause of European colonialism."

It is equally hard to imagine that 100 years from now the USA could be synonymous with economic underdevelopment, a collapse that was probably cuased and simultaneously the cause of Indian and Chinese colonialism -- India, by way of outsourcing and the internet; China, by way of fixing the Yuan to guarantee that chinese imports will always eliminate indiginous production in the US.

History will repeat itself if we don't take steps.

9/20/2006 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Dave H said...

the thing that will forever preclude Islam from learning anything useful is the insistance that religion forms a vital part of the government, indeed that it is the government and that laws are derived from Allah (of course as interpreted by the head Mullah). This is a discredited idea, Western history shows that it is an inevitable prescription for government by tryanny. It needs to be recognized that no Religion will ever voluntarily surrender the trappings of power. In the weat this was done from the outside, mostly in msny cases by the simple unwillingness of anointed rulers to let themselves be ruled by the church.

The effect when people like Henry VIII was done, was to break the power of the church, this left the rulers out in the wind where everyone could see, "Why these rulers are only men, my ideas are as good as theirs, if we kill them we can try our ideas". Some of the ideas worked, some didn't, the end result was rapid progress.

Bush's idea that there can be an Islamic form democracy is nothing but an oxymoron.

If the "religion" cannot adapt to the idea that it cannot form part of the government, let alone be the government, them it must be stamped out, root and branch, to the last twig.

9/20/2006 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

sfrcook said "Others claim that we are too pre-occupied with trying to transplant our values, and should focus more on the military aspects of our current struggle, arguing that Islam is inherently unable to absorb values of the West. But as Wretchard points out, nothing precluded Islamic societies from adopting some of the Wests worst pathologies, why should it not now adopt its most admirable virtues."

But the Pope and Kissinger are asserting that Islam may be inherently "unreasonable", which would explain why Islamic societies readily adopt "Western Pathologies" and reject "admirable virtues".

I would suspect that Wretchard is more in agreement with the Pope and Kissinger than with what you are saying.

9/20/2006 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

pyrthroes said: "One qualitative culture outstrips 100 "hydraulic" ones. Even economists of the London School have finally admitted that. "

Could you point me to some reference links supporting this? I'm interested in reading them. Thanks.

9/20/2006 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger sfrcook said...

Fernand_Braudel,

I am unaware of the assertions of the Pope or Mr. Kissinger, but I will look forward to reading what they have said if you care to post a link.

I do understand the skepticism. Yet I don't expect perfection, nor do I expect Jeffersonian democracy to spring up over night in the Middle East. Islam will ultimately have to find it's own way, particularly the Islam of the Middle East.

To the Pope and Mr. Kissinger, I submit that Islam has proven to be quite "reasonable;" in Turkey, India, to a degree in Indonesia and Malaysia. And most notably, here in the US. Perhaps the best we can hope for in the Middle East is the emergence of another "Turkey". Yet can one genuinely claim that such a development would not be preferrable to what existed and continues to exist there?

9/20/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Fernand_Braudel said...

How about Wretchard's following post: "Meeting Engagment" for starts?

9/20/2006 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

I don't think it ever made sense to say that China dominated the world economy (or in any other fashion). True that for quite a while China was the dominant force in its part of the world (say from 200b.c.-1860s), but mainly because of its population and culture. Trade was never a big thing for the Chinese. During the 1800s, the big deal was tea, mexican silver, and opium (imported from India via the British East Asia Company). Apart from the short-lived and never repeated expedition by Cheng He in the 1400s China has never had an interest in the world beyond its borders.

Whether China will become a great power in the future is, I think, very open to question. It is facing many very serious structural problems: the male-female demographic imbalance (53-47) is unique in the world; also, China's population is very rapidly aging (1 child per family consequence) and, due to its giant size, cannot easily promote large families again; the country is a sewer of pollution; the peasants and lower classes often riot due to expropriation of land for the benefit of connected wealthy people. The military is getting well armed but so what? It's isolated geographically (pacific ocean, Gobi, Siberia, Vietnam, and the Himilayas); an attack on Taiwan would doubtless fail and be fatal for the current political scheme.

That's my short take on China.

9/20/2006 02:03:00 PM  
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9/25/2006 11:14:00 AM  

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