The issue of the European development has been addressed by many scholars, but the contribution of Southeast Asia to this development has been a controversial issue. They are some scholars who suggest that Southeast Asia has contributed to the European development; while others account issues like the scientific life, state systems, rationality, property rights, population, and markets as main reasons why Europe has advanced in its development. Despite these disagreements, many scholars explain the global economic divergence in the same manner. Somehow they identify something unique that differentiated Europe from other regions, attributing this uniqueness to the Europe’s divergent path. There are also those who attribute the rapid economic growth and the Industrial Revolution of Western Europe to political, economic and social developments over the preceding centuries, starting the 16th century. The first great divergence was experienced between 1500 and 1800, making this region substantially richer than Asia by the beginning of the 19th century (Parthasarathi, 2011). This paper presents the contribution of Southeast Asia to the European development as well as the reasons as to why Europe developed so rapidly as compared to Asia.
According to Parthasarathi (2011), both Europe and Asia dynamic and diverse economies took different paths of change due to pressures and needs each faced. Since pressures and needs varied systematically across these two regions, including political response to them, there was no way the two regions could take a single path of the development. Britain developed rapidly from other European countries as well as Asia not because it had markets, capitalism, science, and rationality in abundance, but simply because of the pressures and needs it faced. The response to these pressures and needs using good state policies produced better results making the Britain’s economy to advance as compared to other regions.
The British divergence was generated by two critical pressures. First, Britain faced a competitive challenge from the Indian cotton textiles, which were the most important manufactured goods in the eighteenth century in the world trade and were consumed in many regions of the world. As Britain was trying to outdo Indians, they discovered new techniques and technologies that transformed world economy and shifted the center of global manufacturing from Asia to Europe (Parthasarathi, 2011). The second pressure they faced was wood shortages as result of deforestation. Due to this challenge, they shifted from wood to coal, which initiated the development of steam engines as well as new technologies of smelting of iron. Shifting from wood to coal also resulted in the development of new means of transport, such as steamship and railway. On the contrary, India did not experience any of these pressures in the eighteenth century. In this context, Britain advances in coal and cotton were solutions to the issues that never existed in India. According to Parthasarathi (2011), the path of change taken by British was not necessary for pressing economic, political and social needs of the advanced regions of Asia in the eighteenth century.
According to modern historical writings and classical texts written in the nineteenth century, Europeans had three areas of advantage over their counterparts, Asians. The first advantage that led to the exceptional European path of development is the realm of markets and property rights. The European market system was more efficient because there were minimal restrictions on commerce, and the property rights were respected in Europe. These two favorable conditions allowed Europeans to utilize their resources of capital, labor, and land in a meaningful manner, which raised the output and productivity resulting in an economic growth. On the other hand, Asians constrained its market by imposing some restrictions. For instance, China blocked the oversea commerce by banning foreign trade, and India impeded market operations by introducing caste-based limits on occupational mobility. Private property rights were also not respected in Asia, consequently, hindering mercantile activity, economic improvement and investment.
The second advantage that the European region had over other regions is the population. Malthusian accounts that Europe had strong methods for holding the balance between resources and people (Parthasarathi, 2011). The methods used to control population in Europe, such as limited fertility, were not practiced in Asia. Due to this, Asian populations were larger, and the resources, which were available, could not support huge populations. Asian populations were only controlled by natural calamity, such as famine, catastrophes, and pestilence. Sine Europeans had the capability of limiting their numbers; they were able to save more and accumulated more capital leading to the higher rates of growth as well as higher incomes (Allen, 2009).
The third advantage that the European region had over other regions is in the realm of rationality. According to Max Weber, Europe exhibited a unique instrumental rationality that contributed to the modern day polity, culture, and economy (as cited in Parthasarathi, 2011). Although China and India displayed advanced forms of rationality, their entire development was curtailed by the caste and clan institutions, which affected individual freedom and propelled the exercise of rationality into traditional lines. The culture of rationality in Europe created a new scientific outlook on the world, which was very critical for the technological advancement of the eighteenth century.
Southeast Asian Contribution to the European Development
In the 14 century, a new pattern of the world trade developed that linked Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. There was no specific center between these regions, but Southeast Asia was an essential intermediary as shorter hops substituted for the long voyages and more frequent trans-shipment (Lockard, 2009). The value of regional ports was enhanced by this trend, and several distinct commercial zones were developed in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asians people played an active role in the interregional trade, consequently leading to the growth of cities. Southeast Asia was a wealthy and cosmopolitan region where products, ideas, and people met. In the 15th through 17th centuries, Southeast Asia transformed toward a more economically dynamic systems. This region became a critical part of the developing world economy in which they exported their goods (Lockard, 2009).
The scientific culture is attributed to the European industrial enlightenment, which, in its turn, contributed to the economic growth in two ways. First, it was to determine and propagate superior techniques, and the second was to understand why these techniques worked by generalizing them. The two ways could only be achieved through scientific mentality and experimentation, which permeated inventors and engineers with a faith in the rationality, orderliness, and predictability of natural phenomena (Saliba, 2011). However, the kind of science that was in use in those days has been described by Jacob and Mokyr as a project of experimentation, the clarification of mathematical laws, and deductive reasoning (Saliba, 2011). It indicates that most of the scientific activities were achieved through careful observation of natural phenomena, and those who contributed never conceptualized themselves as scientific men, but they studied the natural world out of curiosity as healers, merchants, and soldiers.
Many of the knowledge-producing activities, which were found in India, were found in Europe. However, experimental method was not widely used since individuals were engaged in the natural world to understand how it was working. In this context, Indians were the first ones to observe a connection between the economic and human improvement and knowledge of natural phenomena. Europeans followed in line when they drew this connection in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indians also strove to codify and compile knowledge for useful purposes (Saliba, 2011).
Indians are credited for the generation of new knowledge or are considered to be contributors to a global scientific enterprise. That is why Parthasarathi (2011) argues that European pursuance in knowledge of natural world was neither exceptional nor unique. Therefore, the European scientific men were communicating with their colleagues in India and other regions. Consequently, Asians’ knowledge is considered to have led to the development of what was seen as ‘the European science’.
The Islamic scientific tradition accounted for the Islamic civilization and general histories of science. The Islamic civilization led to the rise of the scientific tradition that resulted in the development of universal science in the pre-modern times. According to Saliba (2011), there was an organic relationship between the European science that existed during the Renaissance and the Islamic scientific that had been developed in earlier centuries. The scholar has used astronomy as a model to trace the advancement of science in Islamic civilization, thus demonstrating the originality of Islamic scientific thought.
There were multiple points of connection between the Islamic and Europe lands during the Middle Ages. Sicily and Spain are the main points where the transition of Islamic knowledge to Europe occurred. In the 11th and 12th centuries, several Christian scholars went to the Muslim lands to learn sciences. Also from the 11th to 14th centuries, a great number of European students attended Muslim higher learning institutions to study cosmography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, among others (Saliba, 2011). Several technologies in the Islamic world were embraced by the Europeans. They included advanced gearing in water locks and automata, various surgical instruments, different astronomical instruments, and various crops.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Indian made tremendous effort to understand the natural world spanning several areas of inquiry, such as chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, botany, and medicine. States and rulers were in support of these efforts, and they showed their support by financing them, and this political patronage was widespread across India. Mathematics and astronomy were the fields that received the state support due to the fact that they were longstanding fields of study. These fields also helped in acquiring European scientific knowledge. During this period, Europeans were drawn by several states to their realms and organized European scientific work translation into the Indian languages, or some Indians were dispatched to Europe for study (Saliba, 2011). Leaders in India wanted to create centers of scientific inquiry through these undertakings that also gained support from libraries that dotted the Indian political landscape.
The eighteenth century technology may have been influenced by science in two ways. First, scientists made discovery to new knowledge that was applied to the technology, and second, science created new cultures, methods or attitudes that may have increased innovations. The critical example of scientific knowledge that led to a new technology was the atmospheric steam engine (Allen, 2009). Apart from the atmospheric steam engine, there was no link between scientific revolution knowledge and the industrial revolution inventions. The link between the two only became important after 1850 (Allen, 2009). Then, the question arose as to where the new technological ideas came from if not from science. Most of the technological ideas during this period came from the following: imitating Asian goods, replacing charcoal with coal, adapting of ideas from other parties, and clock-working as a way of controlling machines (Allen, 2009). Clockwork and coal were general purpose technologies of the following period. From this perspective, Asia contributed to the European development since they (Europeans) were trying to copy the Asian goods. Britain also invented the famous weaving machines of the industrial revolution so that they can compete with India.
European depended on Asians with a number of ways. For instance, the ships for the English East India Company were made in India, which were used for trade within Asia initially, but also for passages to Europe as well (Parthasarathi, 2011). Late in the 18th century, the British admiralty warships were also built in the Indian shipyards. The Indian shipwrights’ technical ability was very high. British used to send plans, which were executed under the authority of an Indian master builder. In short, Britain used to rely on India for ship building. However, it did not last long before some people who were in the shipping businesses started opposing the idea. This opposition forced the British parliament to pass a registry act that imposed a 15 % duty on the goods imported on the India-built ships (Parthasarathi, 2011). It is a clear indication that ship building was a threat to British producers. Another threat to British textile manufacturers was the stiff competition from Indian cotton cloth, which was resolved through the protection. British were outdone by the Indians in many areas, but they always responded by imposing the unfavorable sanctions to them so that the Indians can develop their region without much competition. Other than shipyards, there were other sites of innovation and technical change that Indians had advanced in the eighteenth century. Examples of other innovations in this era included “train innovations in the casting, boring, and designing of cannons, improvements in the manufacture of small guns, and even advances in rocketry” (Parthasarathi, 2011, p. 211).
The development of new technologies that was taking place between the 17th and 18th centuries in areas of transportation, agriculture, and industry can be depicted as Eurasian rather than British. Britain did not discover most of the technologies but what it did is to develop, improve and diffuse these technologies than in the discovery itself. Therefore, both Europe and Asia contributed to technologies that emerged in Britain during this period. The only advantage with Britain was that it had developed a culture that was capable of intermingling science with business, religion, and politics.
Why Europe Grew Rapidly
One of the greatest breakthroughs that have been celebrated in the human history is the Industrial Revolution. It led to an economic expansion starting the sixteenth century. However, the eighteenth century saw a decisive break in the history of economy and the technology. Major inventions, such as coke smelting, the steam engine, and the spinning jenny marked the start of a process that has brought the West to the mass prosperity of the 21st century. This section will explain why Britain developed faster than other region, consequently leading to the European development.
Various reasons have been raised as to why the Europe divergence was different from Asia. Some scholars have argued that political, social and economic factors contributed to this difference, but it appears to be not convincing to others since Asia and Europe at one time were almost the same. Marx believed that capitalism is the one that brought Europe’s divergence (as cited in Parthasarathi, 2011). According to the scholar, Europe was a capitalism territory, but Asia was not, thus leading to the differences. On the other hand, Marx Weber had also a different argument in that, the reason for the Europe divergence was rationality, which arose in Europe, but not in Asia (as cited in Parthasarathi, 2011). The method highlighted by Marx Weber assumes that the advanced areas of Europe followed natural path to industrialization, but Asia economically developed parts did not follow that path since they lacked the features possessed by the European parts. However, this idea has been criticized by other writers since they did not conceive industrialization as the direction for the economic change.
According to Parthasarathi (2011), there are three principles that led to the divergence. First, there were a variety of political and economic goals in the 17th and 18th centuries that produced the numerous paths of development. The second principle is that different paths of the economic change were determined by human choice and agency, and were influenced by the economic, political, and social context. Context here referred to specific conditions under which people reshaped and operated their economic lives. Since ecological pressures and global competitive challenges varied across Europe and Asia, economic actors in these regions had different choices to make so as to overcome different challenges each faced. They could not have made similar choices since they were faced by the different economic challenges.
Finally, the third principle is that the political dimension also played a role in determining the economic life. From the 17th to 19th centuries, state actions played a greater role in determining paths of development in both Asia and Europe. State actions were more than just maintaining the rules of the market and enforcing property rights as argued by some economic historians. States in Europe and Asia transformed the ecology, pushed forward the scientific and technological frontiers, and shaped the long-distance, regional and local trade, among other things, and all these actions contributed positively or negatively to the economy development (Parthasarathi, 2011). Therefore, it is possible to conclude that industrialization contributed to the divergence between Asia and Europe, but neither Asians nor Europeans in the 17th or 18th centuries were trying to develop an industrial society.
In 1600 to 1700, most of the developed parts in Europe and Asia were more alike than different. Some of these regions include parts of India (Coromandal, Bengal, and Gujarat), Japan, the Yangzi delta, and Britain (Allen, 2009). These regions were characterized by the vibrant monetized economies, high skill levels, robust manufacturing, complex legal and commercial institutions, and an interest in technology, and knowledge advancement. In particular, India dominated the global market and its cottons were in high demand globally. However, the development of these regions differed greatly in the subsequent years with Britain dominating the rest (Allen, 2009).
The commencement of Britain dominance and subsequent European dominance is attributed to the efforts and ability of Britain to outdo the Indian cotton production, thus, gaining the greatest share of the global market. A key reason that led to the success of this step is the robust support from a strong domineering state by providing British industry with tariffs as well as other protections, such as prohibiting the Indian imports (Allen, 2009).
Another crucial development that helped Britain to dominate was the exploitation of coal that helped in creating a cheap means of energy. Coal was discovered due to the shortage of wood as a result of deforestation. Therefore, Britain responded to wood shortage by discovering coal. In contrast, China was experiencing the same problem, but did not respond in a similar way due to the fact that its coal recourses were at a far distance from industry centers. Japan did not experience deforestation problem since it had effectively protected its forests. On the other hand, India did not experience any of these challenges. It did not suffer from any energy crisis since it had abundant forests; consequently, it did not discover the advantages of using coal, which provided a plentiful and efficient energy production.
Coal as a source of cheap energy propelled Britain into the greater heights and allowed for the expansion of the iron industry. The expansion of iron industry created a widening gap between Britain and other regions. By the end of the eighteenth century, Britain had developed revolutionary new technologies as a result of the coal-iron energy complex application. Some of these technologies, which were used in the cotton production, included the mule, spinning jenny, and the water frame. These technologies made Britain ‘the world’s workshop’ since no other state had been able to apply such technologies by then (Allen, 2009). The British state power encouraged these changes by supporting its merchants through the development of the new technologies, exploitation of coal, and protection, and a policy of import substitution. Its competitors were not using their states power in the same manner.
Britain also extended its lead over India by acquiring political dominance over the subcontinent. The gap of development between the two regions widened further due to policies that encouraged imports of goods manufactured in Britain, the State withdrew its support for Indian enterprises, and Indian economic and technological capabilities withering had built up over the previous centuries. Therefore, India was unable to maintain a high growth pattern due to the insufficient levels of compensating European inputs.
Other features that assisted Europe to develop rapidly than other regions include favorable political institutions, significant agricultural innovations, a scientific world view, and relatively high rates of numeracy and literacy. All these factors prepared as well as promoted the ground for industrialization. According to Allen (2011), the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain because of three major reasons, namely, high wages, cheap energy (economics of coal), and agricultural efficiencies. The Black Death reduced population in Britain, thus, encouraging wages increment. British also valued the importance of machinery as opposed to labor cost, leading to more invention of important machines. The highest paid laborers of the period were the English workers (Allen, 2009).
The price and wage structure of the British affected the demand for technology. This structure allowed the British businesses to invent technology that substituted energy and capital for labor. The product innovation was also stimulated by the high real wage because it indicates that Britain had a broader mass market for the luxury consumer goods. These luxury consumer goods included imports from other regions like East Asia. Agricultural efficiencies were effectuated by high wages paid to the laborers. There was a plenty of land to pasture, which accelerated sheep farming, leading to the production of better quality of wool. Land was in abundance during this period because after the Black Death, only a few farmers were active. Large farms, farmers active studies, government policies, and data sharing on improving yields contributed positively, and a single farmer could have fed a huge population (Allen, 2009).
The British Industrial Revolution contributed a lot to the global economy of the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period, wages were very high in Britain, and energy and capital were very cheap as compared to other regions (Allen, 2009). As a result of this, Britain had an easier time in inventing new technologies of the industrial revolution such as the substitution of coal for wood in iron smelting, the cotton mill, and the steam engine. The high wage economy also encouraged the industrial development in that a number of people could afford apprenticeships and schooling. The Industrial Revolution spread around the world only when the new technologies were made more cost-effective in the 19th century by the British engineers.
There are other developments that also initiated the supply of technology in Britain. For instance, the Newtonian science helped inventors and innovators in sparking their creativity that led to breakthroughs that would not been achieved through average research and development (Allen, 2009). Elements such as the Newtonian science can be conceptualized as the industrial enlightenment because they boosted the rate of invention at any level of human capital, prices, and wages. The pivot under which the Industrial Revolution in Britain swung was the unique wages and prices structure. The unique wages and prices structure was created by the imperial and commercial expansion of Britain, which successively actuated the technological breakthroughs of the 18th century by increasing demand for inventions that replaced energy and capital for labor as well as generating the population that was exceedingly able to react to those incentives due to the high rates of craft skills, numeracy, and literacy. The spread of scientific culture during this period is considered to have reinforced this trend. A number of important scientific developments such as the Newtonian science contributed to the advance, although their effect would not have been realized without a demand for the technologies that made use of them.
In the eighteenth century, during the Industrial Revolution, wages were believed to have risen, but they were certainly lower than they are today. However, a current research on the price and wage history shows that the Britain economy was a high wage one in four ways. The four ways include: the British wages were higher than those of its competitors at the exchange rate, British experienced higher living standards than anywhere else due to high silver wages, the British wages were high relative to capital prices, and wages in Western and Northern Britain were exceedingly high relative to energy prices (Allen, 2009).
There are two factors that led to the uniqueness of the British wages and prices. The first factor was the success of Britain in the global economy, which was facilitated by the state policy. The second factor was Britain’s geographical location that ensured that coal deposits were readily available in this region (Parthasarathi, 2011). In the pre-industrial Europe, the real wages were inversely proportional to the population. After the Black Death, the European population was reduced by a third, thus, making the real wages to rise. Population resumed in between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries making the real age to fall. However, in some parts, such as Northwestern Europe, the real wage was still superior. The reason behind this superiority performance was that there was a boom in international trade in this region. In the late sixteenth century, there was an English boom as a result of exporting new draperies, which were in high demand by then. As a result of this boom, the English and the Dutch had much more trade per capita than any other country in Europe in the eighteenth century. The greater volume of trade explains why the Britain’s wages were increased or maintained high irrespective of the population growth (Allen, 2009). An econometric analysis performed on the trade data also confirms this.
Availability of coal deposits in Britain was the second factor that contributed to the unique price and wage structure. Coal has had a long history as to why the British industrial process succeeded. It was not only cheap but abundant in Western and Northern Britain. The cost of fuel mattered a lot during the industrial revolution, and cheap fuel was very critical for two key reasons. First, cheap coal raised the ratio of the price of energy to the price of labor, thus, contributing to the demand for a technology that would make use of the energy. Furthermore, energy was a crucial input in the production of bricks and metals, which controlled the index of the price of capital services. Capital prices, which were relative to wages, fell as result of cheap energy, therefore, contributing to the inducement to substitute capital for labor (Allen, 2009).
The second reason why cheap fuel was important was that coal was a natural resource whereas the coal industry required some innovations for it to succeed since it was not a natural phenomenon. In the late sixteenth century, London grew tremendously causing the coal industry to take off. The growth of London increased the demand for fuel, and the cost for wood and charcoal suddenly increased because fuel was fetched from greater distances. On the other hand, coal was readily available in the unlimited supply and its cost was favorable from the 15th to 19 century. Before the 15th century, sulfur had made coal an inferior fuel, but it did not last for long. As London’s population increased, the demand for fuel increased, and prices for wood fuel increased having been sold as twice as that of coal by 1585 (Allen, 2009). The high prices for wood fuel encouraged buyers to substitute coal for wood. Therefore, it is possible to argue that the take-off of the coal industry was accelerated by the rapid growth of London’s population. The growth of the international trade is also a key factor that contributed to these processes, and the exploitation of coal resources in Britain were the result of the country’s success in the global economy as well as availability of a reliable natural resource (coal). London’s high wage economy led to the exploitation of cheap coal, whereas the cheap energy sustained the high wage economy. Therefore, coal as an input enabled the British businesses to be in a position to pay a high wage, whilst remaining profitable. It was an advantage to British firms, and contemporaries were aware of this (Allen, 2009).
One of the important determinants of the character and pace of the technical change in Britain was its high wage and cheap energy economy, which affected demand and supply of the international trade. Product innovations that imitated Asian trade goods also contributed to the pace and character of the technical change. The industrial process in Britain diverged from those used in other regions because the high and rising wage caused a demand for technology that replaced labor with capital and energy. In Britain, the real wage rose relative to the price of the capital, thus, initiating the need to replace labor with capital, and that is what exactly happened.
The global economic divergence was contributed to different factors as indicated in this paper. There are numerous controversial issues as the economist historians try to explain the causes of Europe developing rapidly than Asia, yet at one time they were almost similar. As discussed in this paper, Asia and in particular Southeast Asia contributed a lot to the European development. There are some scholars who support that Southeast Asia contributed to the European development, while others accounts issues like the scientific life, state systems, rationality, property rights, population, and markets as main reasons why Europe advanced in its development. Despite these disagreements, many scholars explain the global economic divergence in the same manner. They, somehow, identify something unique that differentiated Europe from other regions, attributing this uniqueness to the divergent path of Europe. There are also those who attribute to the rapid economic growth and industrial revolution of Western Europe to political, economic and social developments over the preceding centuries, starting the16th century. The first great divergence was experienced between 1500 and 1800, making this region substantially richer than Asia by the beginning of the 19th century (Parthasarathi, 2011).
Southeast Asians people played an active role in the interregional trade, consequently, leading to the growth of cities. Southeast Asia was a wealthy and cosmopolitan region where products, ideas, and people met. In the 15th through the 17th centuries, Southeast Asia transformed toward a more economically dynamic systems. This region became a critical part of the developing world economy in which they exported their goods (Lockard, 2009).
Both Europe and Asia dynamic and diverse economies took different paths of change due to pressures and needs each faced. Since pressures and needs varied systematically across these two regions including political response to them, there was no way the two regions could take a single path of development. Britain developed rapidly from other European countries as well as Asia not because it had markets, capitalism, science, and rationality in abundance, but simply because of the pressures and needs it faced. The response to these pressures and needs using good state policies produced better results making Britain’s economy to advance as compared to other regions.
The British divergence was generated by two critical pressures. Firstly, Britain faced a competitive challenge from the Indian cotton textiles, which were the most important manufactured goods in the eighteenth century in world trade and were consumed in many regions of the world. As Britain was trying to outdo Indians, they discovered new techniques and technologies that transformed the world economy and shifted the center of global manufacturing from Asia to Europe (Parthasarathi, 2011). The second pressure they faced was wood shortages as result of deforestation. Due to this challenge, they shifted from wood to coal, which initiated the development of steam engines as well as new technologies of smelting of iron. Shifting from wood to coal also resulted in the development of new means of transport, such as steamship and railway.
According to Parthasarathi (2011), there are three principles that led to the divergence. First, there were a variety of political and economic goals in the 17th and 18th centuries that produced plural paths of development. The second principle is that different paths of the economic change were determined by the human choice and agency, and were influenced by economic, political, and social context. Context here referred to specific conditions under which people reshaped and operated their economic lives. Since ecological pressures and global competitive challenges varied across Europe and Asia, economic actors in these regions had different choices to make so as to overcome different challenges each faced. They could not have made similar choices since they were faced by the different economic challenges.
Finally, the third principle is that political dimension also played a role in determining the economic life. From the 17th to 19th centuries, state actions played a greater role in determining paths of development in both Asia and Europe. State actions were more than just maintaining the rules of the market and enforcing property rights as argued by some economic historians. States in Europe and Asia transformed the ecology, pushed forward the scientific and technological frontier, and shaped the long-distance, regional and local trade, among other things, and all these actions contributed positively or negatively to the economy development (Parthasarathi, 2011). Therefore, it is possible to conclude that industrialization contributed to the divergence between Asia and Europe, but neither Asians nor Europeans in the 17th or 18th centuries were trying to develop an industrial society.
Due to the numerous reasons given by scholars as to why the divergence differed, it is not possible to have a concise argument. Every writer is defending his / her arguments, and there is no possibility that these economists historians will agree concerning one point. In my own opinion, Parthasarathi presented the best argument by highlighting three principles that may have created the differences in these regions.