Does the Needle Point West?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Historical economic research regarding the origin of prosperity in modern world economics, and how big history affects today's political economic state. This was an old college capstone project of mine that I found and enjoy. My professor said it was an incredibly intriguing research essay, but not a historiography: the original intent of the paper. 1200 pages of research into the essay, I could not turn back and rewrite the paper, so turned it in as is. I still got an A in World Civilizations.

Submitted: November 23, 2014

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Submitted: November 23, 2014

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~~G. Monroe, May 2014

Does The Needle Point West?
How the political and economic institutions of today came to be
 Is it possible to devolve the notion of prosperity that is associated with eurocentrism, or is the west indeed an exceptional region of the world? Several key factors can be analyzed to determine if a modern nation is qualified to be a developed, developing, or even, as the UN dictates, a least developed country. The economy can be analyzed: national purchasing power and per capita GDP are indicators of a country's productivity. But the gap between developed countries and developing and least developed countries is significant. A comparative analysis of the per capita GDP (PPP) of a developed country, such as the United States, and a Least Developed Country, such as the pacific island nation of Tuvalu, reveals a remarkable difference: Tuvalu's PPP is a mere 6% of the United States' average per capita income of $52,800. However, when comparing the PPP of Tuvalu to the nearby developing country of Fiji, the difference in per capita income varies by only 12.5%, or about $500 per home. The two Polynesian nations, both apart of the British Overseas Territories, enjoy a similarly modest, yet productive and definitely not impoverished quality of life. The total GDP for Fiji is nearly $4.5 billion, while Tuvalu has a miniscule purchasing power of $40 million. The obvious difference in PPP and GDP of the three countries, yet the similarity for quality of life within Fiji and Tuvalu as compared to The United States begets the questioning of economy purely as an indication of prosperity. Are there other indicators of national affluence in the global economy, what are they, and how did certain areas come to develop while others did not? I identify that two major historical events gave rise to population centers that would eventually develop the social and political institutions affiliated with today's developed countries; that is the agricultural revolution of nearly twelve thousand years ago, and the more modern industrial revolution.
 Why did certain nations prosper while others declined? A question often asked by scholars of Big History and its relevance to modern human civilization, and, ,in order to do so, one must look at a broad time line of events that facilitated the growth of power within certain nations of select regions of the world. Two major areas of concern dictate who, when, and why these nations succeeded: The agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution greatly influenced the formation of modern political structures and institutions. To begin answering the big question, one must start at the beginning and analyze where agriculture first developed independently, where crop and animal domestication likewise spread, and what significance does that have on the foundation of the civilizations that would become the states of the industrial revolution over ten thousand years later.
 It is important to consider first where the domestication of plants and animals first developed independently; that is, where cultures of people in relative isolation from each other raise wild plants and animals at the same general time but in completely separate geographic regions. But also why the regions were geographically able to support mass cultivation of crops, animals, and large human population densities. The effect of the agricultural revolution would be the formation dense human populations brought on by an increased food supply and resistance to diseases originating from the animals domesticated.
 The Geography of some regions are obviously more advantageous for crop domestication-- early humans were not likely to begin harvesting wild grains in Siberia or the Gobi Desert. However, when proto-agricultural groups of people of the same origin and owning the same technology settled in different geographic regions only miles apart, the segment of population settling in more bio-diverse regions would evolve separately. The Aboriginal people of Papa New Guinea and Australia both originate from Southeast Asia, and arrived to the Australian continent around 40,000 years ago when both islands were one. The hunter-gatherer society island hopped its way to the island bringing with them the same rudimentary canoes, stone tools, and spears. The aboriginal population soon spread throughout the continent, with the highest population densities existing in the northern tropical mountainous region and the east coast. However, when the last glacial period ended and the upper latitude glacial ice melted, the sea levels rose significantly, flooding the low lying areas of the Australian continent and geographically separating the aboriginal population nearly 10,000 years ago. Two populations of humans then lived in physical and developmental isolation, separated by the 90 mile Torres Straight. The geography of the two islands were strikingly different. Australia is mainly flat, arid and void all but one major river, and generally not bio-diverse; whereas to the north, New Guinea is mountainous, blanketed in highland tropical rain forests, and covered with swift flowing rivers, all of which host a plentiful bio-diverse ecosystem. This difference in physical geography gave rise to one of the earliest agricultural civilizations outside of Eurasia. The domestication of Bananas and sugar cane bolstered the growth of a strong civilization not comparable to the Australian aboriginals, a race of peoples almost genetically identical to the indigenous Papua New Guineans. The very fact that the New Guineans were able to resist the expansion of the agriculturally adept Austronesian people originating from East Asia, and adopt much of their modern technology and agricultural practices while the Australian Aboriginals did not, despite contact with Torres Strait island New Guineans that did adopt the technology (albeit with less success due to geography), is a testament to New Guinean superiority among the Aboriginal peoples. By the Year 1000B.C., The New Guineans had adopted the bow and arrow, bone crafted fish hooks, and new plant and animal domesticates including the Asian yam, Hog, and Chicken. Equipped with superior East Asian technology, The Austronesian people would expand throughout the entire south pacific and even Africa with advanced double outrigger canoes by the 14th  century. The Australian aboriginal people, however, would continue to exist purely as a hunter-gatherer society until the Europeans colonized the continent without resistance in the 17th century. A feat not so easily achieved in New Guinea, as evidenced by the continued isolation of New Guinean culture well into the 19th century. This goes to show the roll physical geography had on the development of agriculture, but the first instance crop domestication occurred in a much more globally influential corner of the Earth.
The first evidence of plant domestication occurred around 8500B.C.  in the Fertile Crescent of Southwest Asia among the river valleys of the Jordan, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers, and is the beginning of what I refer to as the first agricultural revolution. It is during this time period , continuing roughly between the 9th century b.c. to the industrial revolution, that many hunter-gatherer societies adopted agriculture. Later, during what is denoted as the second phase of the continual agricultural revolution, many remaining hunter-gatherer societies were more so displaced or eradicated by outside powers owning advanced technology permitted by agricultural advancement. To digress, the agricultural revolution began independently in at least five geographical regions of the Earth: the Fertile Crescent, the Yellow and Yangtze river valley, Mesoamerican tropical highlands, the Andes highlands, and the Mississippi and Ohio river valley. Other regions of independent domestication include the New Guinea highlands, the African Sahel, tropical West Africa, and Ethiopia. However, domestication of local plants and animals would later spawn in many regions that adopted foreign agriculture, including Western Europe, the Nile river valley, and the Indus river valley.
  It can be observed that the spread of wheat and grain domestication from the Fertile Crescent to the Indus and Nile river valleys spawned independent local domestication of domestic wild plants and animals. The introduction of crops, primarily cereals, would “found” new agricultural civilizations. These founder civilizations would not necessarily live in isolation from one another, their cultures wouldn't begin to clash until much later in human history, but they would benefit from adjacent population's domesticated organisms. For insistence, the Indus river valley civilization adopted wheat, barley, goats and sheep, but soon began to domesticate their own local plants and animals. The poppy seed, which is common in food from cultures in all Indo-European cultures, was originally domesticated in the Indus river valley and spread west to be grown in all three regions. Some domesticates that came into fruition during the agricultural revolution failed to spread in a likewise manner. The Indian Zebu, cattle also known as the Brahma in homage to Indian cultural reverence for the animal, would remain a local domesticate in the Indus river valley and not spread westward, but livestock would later be adopted in the rest of the Indo-European region with different sub-species of bovine that evolved separately than that of the Zebu. This exemplifies the fact that agriculture and the advancement of civilization did not spread homogeneously; rather, it spread in segments, allowing for individual populations of humans to develop as separate cultures that would eventually evolve to be both socially and biologically superior to proto-agricultural humans.
 How did Western Europe, a region founded by migrating peoples from Southwest Asia which developed agriculture relatively late, become a region of high population density and success coming into the first millennium B.C.? Considering Europe north of the Alps possesses less than ideal soil conditions, especially when compared to other prominent regions of early crop domestication, the answer lies with the liberal adaptation of new technologies. The settlement of western Europe by early farmers would not have been an easy task had not the people of the region began to adopt iron tools starting by at latest 1500 B.C. Iron axes and plow heads made it possible for early settling populations to clear the dense forests blanketing central Europe. Even if the soil of central and western Europe could not compare to the region's contemporary agricultural regions, like Tropical West Africa, the region benefited from some of the Earth's longest growing seasons in the higher latitudes. Warm water currents diverted north off the coast of Brazil along the West coast of Africa and Europe extend well into the northern reaches of the continent. The average winter temperatures along the coast of Norway, extending north to latitudes over 70°, are equatable to temperatures of the American Northeast some 20° closer to the equator. This gives coastal Western Europe long growing seasons, a geographical anomaly that granted the region the ability to support large populations of people. However, even with seemingly bountiful climatic conditions for agriculture, western Europe's climate was still unpredictable. Intermittent periods of drought made the continent a host for regular bad crops, thus the European population of agriculturalists had to learn to depend on the both the forest and the continued invention of new technology to circumvent the somewhat problematic climate. Kingdoms arose with a host of hunter-warrior armies equipped with bronze and iron weapons crafted and re-purposed from farming tools. The war mongering tendency for European peoples was nonetheless inspired by their ready adaptation of technology developed during the agricultural revolution.
 Fast forward to the second phase of the agricultural revolution, and the effect of animal domestication on biological superiority is readily observed. The resistance Eurasian people had to diseases originating from animals was a tremendous advantage they had over the people they came into contact with. When the Europeans expanded into the Americas during the 15th century A.D., they came armed with not only a diverse array of technology 10,000 years in the making, but with the evolutionary resistance to diseases that segment of the human population had been exposed to for an equivalent period of time. A natural resistance to Measles, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, Influenza, and Malaria had not been developed with the Native American population. These diseases evolved to affect humans from pathogens that originally affected bovine animals, swine, and avian species found in Afro-Eurasia. The only disease the Americans were exposed to was Syphilis, thought to originate with the only early American large animal domesticate, the Llama and Alpaca. When two previously isolated populations of humans came into contact with each other, the group with a heritage of owning a more bio-diverse system of agriculture reigned supreme. This elucidates the point that the development of agriculture greatly benefited civilizations that would adopt new technologies allowing them to conquer other less biologically and technologically developed human civilizations. Socially, the American people may have not been inferior to the invading Europeans: the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan may have been the largest and arguably the most culturally vibrant city in the world before the 15th century. Nevertheless, their population was decimated by the advanced technologies wielded and the disease resistances unknowingly held by the European invaders. The key to technological superiority rested in the hands of those civilizations that utilized a more bio-diverse system of agriculture.
 It is for these reasons that the Eurasian people were able to expand their influence so well in the time just preceding the industrial revolution. But why did Europeans colonize the Americas, and not the people of the Islamic world, or the people of East Asia? By the twelfth century, the Caliphates of the Islamic World had already distended their influence deep into the African Continent, and, by the thirteenth century, the Mongols of East Asia had conquered china and the entire Asian Steppe up to Genoese on Crimea. Why was it that the Europeans, a continent that during this period of early territorial expansion was veiled in darkness and famine, break out as the leading world military power after the fifteenth century?
 The adaptation of new technologies once again facilitated European ability to prosper in the new era of social and scientific development, but no longer was it just the advancement of agricultural technology that fomented the growth of civilization, rather an explosion of trade during the industrial revolution gave the ability for early dynastic societies to display dominance in the world trade order. Overseas commerce between Europe and East Asia lends its origins to the ancient world, but travel was limited by the technology of the time. The sea faring East Asian traders only traded as far east as Sri Lanka, South Asian traders ventured no more north than Bab-al-Mandeb, and  Arab Traders likewise rarely traded beyond Alexandria. Ancient Logistical abilities were limited to the private operator of sea going vessels that would successfully trade in foreign lands not without suspicion or even hostility from the local merchants. Han over land trade routs of the ancient would were similarly segmented, but conditions of the journey potentially more dangerous to the trader. It was not until the regions of trade were connected by some form of rule that trade relations eased domestically. The vast majority of Indo-European people were unified under Alexander's Greek expansion and later Roman rule, connecting Europe to both land and sea trade from Eastern civilizations. However it is important to note that East Asian and African civilizations held economic power greater than that of pre-Greko-Roman Europe. Imperial China depended on rice trade with outlying regions of East Asia, just as the Roman Empire relied on the entire continent’s supply of wheat.
 Trade has historically expanded and retracted every couple centuries due to the expansion of political and religious influence, and the spread of disease. As European populations still were being ravished by  the plague Yersinia Pestis, Islam was dominating the Arab world and by 630 A.D., both Bab-al-Mandeb and the silk road were all but shut down to western trade. Continual plagues would be responsible for the ebb and flow of commerce in Eurasia for the next eight hundred years, ultimately spitting Islam in two, effectively ending the Pax Mongolica, and implanting an urge for Europeans to rebuild the valuable points of trade lost during the dark ages.
 Three pillars of success, as David Landes describes in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, allowed the European people to adapt foreign technology during the Renaissance, and use the system of social evolution to expand their influence across the globe: intellectual autonomy, a common yet adversarial method of understanding, and the “routinization” of research and development. The growing autonomy of scientific inquiry reflected Europe's tradition of cultural segmentation. As the Renaissance began to flourish in fifteenth century Italy, the wealth of the Papal state funded scientific and cultural advancement. Ultimately, intellectual inquiry across Europe began to challenge the dogmatic traditions the roman church held in favor of a unifying fervor for invention and cultural advancement. However unifying the search for European intellectual superiority was, it was the general cultural disunity that fomented an adversarial method for the quest for proof and understanding. Likewise, it was a routine for proto-industrial European states to research and develop new inventions that benefited the whole. The ability for the Europeans to advance scientifically, gave rise to their industrial and logistical superiority in the age of imperial expansion.
 The Austronesian people of South East Asia and the Pacific had, by the 16th century, developed sea faring vessels for at least 4,000 years, trading and migrating within the Indian Ocean world worlds native economy. However, the people of Southeast Asia and Polynesia still sailed in small crafts not suitable for trans continental navigation. The largest ships sailing in the Indian Ocean prior to the Portuguese exploration of the region were unarmed Ming Junks crafted of light wood and canvas, reaching lengths of over 200ft. However, Ming treasure ships had little influence in pre-European trade expansion, and the majority of the vessels trading in the Indian ocean, as mentioned before, were small and traveled in a segmented system of trade. When European gunboats began to sail into the Indian Ocean during the early 16th century, Asian powers could not compete, giving powerful Dutch and British trading corporations the unrivaled ability to colonize and trade within the region. European states had the logistical power, the ability to transport goods and people, to expand their influence across the globe, and, by the 18th century, Briton, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal controlled the new world trade economy directly. This European logistical Superiority would help develop a more modern sense of core and periphery regions as early as the 18th century, supporting the West's ability to emerge as the leading industrial production center during the 19th and 20th century.
 It was through industrialization that Briton came to know the vast empire that it gained by the 19th century. Larger ships won the land of the empire, and soon rail roads and steam engines would pave the way for the island economy to break out as the world leader in production and transportation of consumer products. Where once China and India were the world's production center for textiles, Briton in the 19th century could out weave any cotton or silk factory in the world. The price of cotton clothing would inevitably drop, but Briton's monopoly on the manufacture and trade of the good ensured the kingdoms deliverance into the upper echelon of global economies following the industrial revolution. As Daron Acemoglu examines in Why Nations Fail, the process of creative destruction, that is the process by which new technologies render traditional methods of production obsolete, streamlined the way Briton – and any other industrializing state of the time that followed the same process – advanced economically. While Briton wasn't alone in the industrial revolution, it was the first to invent the steam engine and utilize it even in the 18th century. Many western states followed the trend of modernization and mechanization to improve their production capabilities. By the 1850's the majority of nations that would continue to display dominance in the global economy had found their niche in production, expanded their empire to feed industry, and adapted some form of domestic creative destruction. These early industrial nations would continue to support inclusive institutions at home; that is social, political, and economic institutions that promoted modernization and globalization through domestic creative destruction. The empires built by the industrializing nations of the 19th century, however, would continue to extract the resources from territorial assets, setting those areas to a disadvantage before they could become independent.
 Not all nations that would come to power in the 20th century, however, industrialized in along with Briton and the rest. In an attempt to maintain control, the governments of many dynastic empires of the 19th century continued to support old economic and political institutions. Russia, for instance, was the last European empire to abandon serfdom. The empire didn't successfully attempt to create a competitive global economy until after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Why Nations Fail points out that the new system of production under Stalin's five year plans promised to improve the states economic leverage well into the 1980s. After World War II, Soviet Russia dominated the world balance of power, and challenged the production capability of the United States. The extractive institutions promulgated by strong politically centralized elite, that is the collectivized system of agriculture and heavy industry, supported economic gains in the short term, but ultimately dissolved the working class's motivation to work. The effect of extractive economic institutions was , and by the 1970's the country could not produce in accordance to expectation. The process of creative destruction was not viable in Soviet Russia, and economic calamity ensued as the nation's territorial periphery, the Warsaw pact, dissolved completely by 1991.
 It is continuously shown that the Nations that supported inclusive political and economic institutions are the nations that continue to be benefactors of the modern world economy. Inclusive institutions prove to develop continual economic growth, while extractive institutions eventually fail, even when initial economic boom seems considerable. It is no coincidence that the west is most commonly considered to be historically exceptional, considering other nations of the modern world only began to experience competitive growth due to the acceptance of inclusive institutions only after  the second half of the 20th century. Japan, a nation that began to industrialize in the 19th century in a similar process to Russia and Germany,  has been an exceptional example of growth through inclusive adaptation after World War II in the “east”. Extractive methods of production, however, will always be alluring to industrializing states even today. The economic gains that come from extracting every resource can bolster a competitive global economy,  as evidenced by China's emergence as a economic superpower coming into the 21st century. If a fundamental reorganization of political control in China were to happen today, the nation could vary continue to grow economically.

 

 


Bibliography
Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Society. New York: W.W. Norton,  1999. Print.
Landes, David S. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are so Rich and Some so Poor. New  York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.
Condliffe, J. B. The Commerce of Nations. New York: Norton, 1950. Print.
Bernstein, William J. A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Has Shaped the World. London: Atlantic,  2008. Print.
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and  Poverty. New York: Crown, 2012. Print.


© Copyright 2020 Garrett Monroe. All rights reserved.

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