Re: historical evidence

Mon, 3 Mar 1997 12:00:08 -0700 (MST)
Albert J Bergesen (albert@U.Arizona.EDU)

WSNers: Part of this debate is dealt with by data: comparisons of
production, trade, finance, etc. statistics between East and West for the
years in question. I would like to see some.

In that spirit, Paul Bairoch's "International INdustrialization Levels
from 1750 to 1980", JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN ECONOMIC HISTORY 11(1982):
269-334, provides a table on shares of world manufacturing output,
1750-1980, that sheds some light on this question.

in 1750, by his calculations, the West accounts for only 18.2% of world
manufacturing output while the East (China, Japan, India/Pakistan)
accounts for 61.1%; as late as 1830 the West's share is 31.1% to 50.2% for
the East. By 1860 the rise of the west has, in fact, taken place, as the
West now accounts for 53.5% vs. 30.9% for the East.

First, this is the foundation for the claim that the rise of the west does
not occur in the 16th century, but only later, mid-19th century.

Second, the West peaks at 84.2% of world manufacturing output in 1928
and drops down to 57.8% in 1980, a figure similar to the West's share of
53.7% in 1860. This is the foundation for the claim of the relatively
short lived Euro/American zonal hegemony in world manufacturing, from,
generally, 1850 to 2050. This is also the basis for the notion that Asia
isn't rising for the first time, but ressuming a position of
leadership/domination in world manufacturing held prior to the
Euro/American ascendence.

Third, is the question of what does "world manufacturing output". This
brings us to theory, and the now raised possibility of a Marian/Weberian
mis-read of the Euro/American ascendence as a new turn in world history.
For Terry B. it is still a new turn in world history. But, if we can take
some stock in the Bairoch figures then the new turn is but a statistical
blip of a few hundred years, and probably not a world historic turn at
all, unless one wants to mean a temporary zonal hegemony a world historic

That for me raises the eurocentric issue again. Without indulging in
Western self hatred, it seems reasonable that when the theoretical output
of an area that has just attained temporary global hegemony (post-1850
Europe) makes universalist claims that this area is totally diffferent in
viritually all ways from the rest of the world, and that difference
accounts for this rise, and that this rise, is a turn in world history,and
not, as it turns out, a blip, that this theory seems legitimately called
zonal centrtic, and when the zone is Europe, then Eurocentric. This seems
like a straight call.

Now, it is argued that the Bairock statistics for
China/India/Pakistan/etc. are not of "capitalist" manufacturing but of
"traditional manufacturing" and as such shouldn't count as the world is
moving toward "capitalism" as th dominant mode of production. China was
just bigger, and arguments like that. This assumes what is now
increasingly being challenged by the globo-centric theoretical
perspective, that Europe was different. This is the basis for the claim
that there was no "capitalism", where capitalism means doing anything
different from what others in the world had been doing. There is temporal
difference--new things emerge all the time--at that is no doubt associated
with a temporary advantage the region gains, but that is not a change in
the larger system, here the East/West world economy. Or, if "capitalism"
is to mean the Euro/American ascendance, then, since that is passing,
isn't capitalism passing passing too, and won't the Asian ascendence gain
another name associated with its production technique?

But this is short sighted. If we make each zonal hegemony a different
system we are blind to the framing system that makes the very zonal
transititions we observe possible. That, I will guess, will be the
greatest draw back of the "capitalism" idea--it universalized a temporary
zonal advantage, and took a blip and make it seem like a world historic
shift. Now, I don't doubt that there are world historic shifts, but note
that what was supposedly the European originated one is turning out to be
a blip, much like socialism turned out to be a 1917-1989 blip.

This, it seems to me, leaves us with two options: (i) we can continue to
see the medium short run as universal--capitalism, socialism, feudalism,
etc. and say these are the great world systemic breaks, or (ii) we can try
and identify the structure and soico/economic logic of the East/West world
economy, within which, capitalism, socialism, feudalism has been produced,
and temporarily risen and fallen. These are the consequendes of the real
economic system of the real world system of real world history. We have
mistakenly seen outcomes as origins and as primal causes.

Here, at the end of the 20th century, it has taken the decline of the West
and the rise of Asian economies to make us finally question our
theoretical framework in any sort of deep way. The received past of
theory--particulary the Marxian heritage since it served in its time as
the embodiment of left progressivity--is particulary difficult to overcome
and dislodge from ways of thinking. Hopefully, the data provided by
Bairoch will start the dislodging process.

al b.

Albert Bergesen
Department of Sociology
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721
Phone: 520-621-3303
Fax: 520-621-9875