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The “Great Divergence,” Politics, and Capitalism

In: Journal of Early Modern History
Author:
Shami Ghosh Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies Toronto

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Proceeding from a critical assessment of two recent books, Prasannan Parthasarathi’s Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal and R. Bin Wong’s Before and Beyond Divergence, this paper takes stock of the present state of the “Great Divergence” debate. It is argued that the discussion needs to be refined to distinguish between levels of economic development, and paths or trends, in the eighteenth century as well as between causes of sustained growth, and of stagnation or decline in the nineteenth century. It is further suggested that the debate needs to be connected to an understanding of the causes of a “Great Convergence” in the early modern world, and how different regions might have reached similar levels of economic complexity, but might nevertheless have been on different paths for future growth. Finally, this paper suggests that the divergence debate also needs to be connected to the debate on the transition to capitalism.

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