Harvard Professor of History and Economics David Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Harvard Professor of History and Economics David S. Landes states in his book that that no has the simple answer as to why some nations are very rich and some are very poor today, he nevertheless argues that the West has been way ahead of the East in progress and success. He categorically points to England as the first country in world history to develop and this happened in the 18th century. Because of this, he writes that Europe (or England) shows how a nation can succeed. The book is a direct negation of the concept of multiculturalism in declaring that even the Chinese and Islamic civilizations' great scientific and technological advancements could not continue to progress as Europe has. He attests to a European miracle in earlier centuries.

Landex compares the development of the West and the East to show how the West won and has led. He uses as examples Eastern countries like China, India, Islamic societies, Africa and Latin America, which have lagged behind, poor and stagnant, and asserts that it was not at the expense of the East and South that the West was much faster and ahead economically, politically, socially and culturally. He asserts that despite the East's invention of gunpowder, paper and the printing press - which are breakthroughs credited to the Chinese - its peoples have remained behind economically. Yet these inventions worked to increase power, skills and mobility when they reached Europe, to a point when European innovations were unprecedented even in the East where these inventions came from. Even Latin America and Africa, with geographic advantages, are behind Europe in their development stages for more than six centuries today. Landes volunteer the reason/s why.

His principal reason was poorer nations' relative inability to use and exploit science, technology and economic opportunity - and due to racial / national attitudes a number of cultural factors. On the other hand, Western countries were ahead because of a mix of a vital and open society, which was attuned towards work and knowledge. This consciousness led to greater productivity, the development of new technology, and the introduction of change itself. Landes clearly points to invention and know-how, as applied in war, transportation, power generation and metalwork skills as the main advantages of Europe over Asia and the South. To the simplest inventions, European nations used what they had to advantage and in diligence.

He specifically mentions England's industrial revolution and the United States' mass production system as the propellers of Western economic superiority in the world. He points to the knowledge, techniques and the very beliefs or ideologies of the West, which were the prime movers of development and modernity itself. Japan, once said to be the only First World country in the Third World, acquired success only for following the example of the West. It is still the inclination and overall predisposition towards hard and meaningful work, open-mindedness, a scientific attitude and a strong commitment to democracy that would decide if a nation would head towards wealth or poverty. His position, as expressed in his book, is a shattering one to developing nations, which are made to believe that they have nothing to learn from Western supremacy, success and advancement. Landes maintains that such supremacy, success and advancement cannot be an accident or the result of economic or political opportunism.

He adds that Europe has been in the driver's seat as far back as the 11th century or 1,000 years ago. That early, he writes that Europe already established what may be called a modern industrial economy, which already set the patter of change from earlier traditional modes of production. (Fathom Knowledge Network 2002) There are evidences of " precocious innovation, technological innovation and diffusion in Europe." Among such innovations were inanimate power, water mills and iron, which Europeans used "precociously." From these innovations, European nations went a different direction not taken by any in the rest of the world at that time - which was to do things, invent them, learn and improve what they learned and in a way that was uncommon in the world then. This matter alone of learning was distinctively European, to Landes' thinking: it was characteristically European or Western to learn and re-learn what is or was already learned. Europeans learn quickly, produce new things, new ways and changes or improves on what they have already learned or done. This is where all the difference happens. Landes says that it is not only a matter of any other nation or race picking up what Europeans learn or do. He maintains that history testifies to the fact that there are societies that learn well and quickly and those which do not. There is simply a difference in that. He illustrates it through the very same Asian inventions of the gunpowder, paper and the printing press, for which Asians can claim as having been ahead. But it was the West or Europeans who took that learning from the East or Asia and made those inventions and innovations better and more productive and profitable. It was and still is the Europeans' inclination to learning, according to Landes, that put them ahead because they used that learning in doing and making things work more effectively.

He takes gunpowder as a concrete example. It may have come from the Chinese, but Europeans improved on it and thereafter, made better gunpowder. than the Chinese themselves. While gunpowder may serve as an example of improvising something for the disadvantage of humanity because it is now used to kill people previously used only as fireworks by the Chinese, just the same, Landes sees that the Europeans' having furthered gunpowder into a weapon gave them a strong advantage.

Landes cites the East's unfairness towards women as another cultural characteristic that goes against its success and progress. He says that women in the Asian continent are exploited rather than having them share in the development of their societies.

Landes attributes the success and economic (and political) power of the West to "the invention of invention," which was or is continuing technological innovation and improvement, (Gray 2002). This secret, he believes, developed from the Judeo-Christian respect for manual labor, as contained in many Biblical commands; the Judeo-Christian subjugation of nature to man; the Judeo-Christian sense of linear time; and the free market or enterprise in Europe. (Gray) And because innovation worked and paid well, there were few heads of nations and those with vested interests who could oppose or discourage innovation (Landes 59) As a result, nation-states were created in Europe, which were self-governing. Cities were created by them, then academes that attracted explorers, scientists, inventors and businessmen. Landes says that, although the Chinese had many inventions and discoveries, they did not follow up on these with developments. The Chinese did (and do) not have the sense of progress that Europeans have. They did not share the latter's curiosity and had no urge to improve their ways of life. On top of these, their regimes were and still are stunted by arrogance and complacency. (Gray)

Landes addresses the claim of Third-World thinkers who blame the West for imposing its material supremacy on the East and thus causing continued poverty and disorder in the latter Continent. While Landes admits to the occurrence of barbarity and destruction caused by advances to civilizations, such as the Incas, he also calls attention to the pre-existing barbarities, injustices and stupidities among their ancestors, e.g., human sacrifices, totalitarian rule, lack of care for their subjects. India's wealth, he mentions, was unevenly distributed, had no private property system, and was hardly literate. While India then had the potential of establishing its own industrial revolution, it had an inferior civilization. The United Kingdom went ahead of it because its people were strictly disciplined and developed…

Sources Used in Document:

Fathom Knowledge Network. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, 2002

Gray, Christopher M. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, a book review. Orbis, 1998

Landes, David S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. New York, USA W.W. Norton, 1998

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