mr friendly guy wrote:
Not sure if this fits best in history or SLAM, but I decided to post it here. I am hoping for some replies from more knowledgeable people particularly Thanas and Guardsman Bass (hey no pressure).
Any way, I read numerous times by various authors that for China to transition to an "advance economy" they will become more like us and democratic. Note in this context, they are talking about being rich, and before someone asks, there is a definition in US dollars in GDP / capita which is counted as "rich" but I don't know it off the top of my head.
There's no real hard-and-fast definition for being a "rich" country, although if you look at the GDP per capita of the OECD members, you can get a good idea. Think GDP per capita above $20,000 a year or so, although that brings in a handful of oil-rich countries and countries that we don't usually consider "rich" (although by world standards they are).
I don't think it's that you need to become "democratic" in order to transform into an "advanced economy", as much as it is that you need an economy (and government) that allows for economic transformation and the utilization of new technology for growth. A country can be democratic and still quite poor and slow-growing, as was the case with India for decades.
Mr Friendly Guy wrote:
That got me thinking, is it democracy or other factors which made the West rich (in GDP and GDP / capita terms) compared to the rest (ie the so called great divergence) ?
Other factors. What started to pull "the West" ahead of the rest of the world was industrialization (particularly in the 19th century, although late 18th century British industrialization was extremely important), and that happened when the European nations in question were not very democratic. Prussia (later Germany) was autocratic albeit with a Parliament, France went through autocracy, monarchy, autocracy again, then democracy, and even Great Britain had a much more limited franchise before reform laws in the 1830s and 1860s.
Jared Diamond wrote:
From what I understand on the topic of the "Rise of the West relative to the Rest"...
Jared Diamond ascribes it to geography (note this is just what I recall from a summary of his works)
Diamond's theory doesn't really explain why the Europeans became dominant versus other powerful states in Eurasia (although throws out his "optimal fragmentation" theory about geography in Europe and nation-states, which I think is wrong). His theory is more useful when asking why people from Eurasia ended up dominating people in the Americas.
Mr Friendly Guy wrote:
Ian Morris was recommended to me, but I haven't found his book yet.
Morris is worth reading just for the comparative history on China and Europe, particularly since he busts a lot of myths about Chinese economic history. I'm not quite sure I buy his "geography" theory, though - in fact, I think his own historical account points more in the direction of "labor costs, accumulated technology, access to coal, and lucky timing".
As far as I can tell, few historians attribute the Great Divergence to the presence of democracy, although they might point to things like the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. One argument I've read for why the Europeans ultimately got ahead of the Chinese economically and technologically was that, for all their scientific and technological discoveries, the Chinese never really developed "scientific inquiry" and the "scientific worldview" as a way of investigating the world. It's questionable how important that was for late 18th century British industrialization, but I've read that the link between scientific research and industrialization became very important in the next "wave" of it that started happening in the 1830s onward.