Friday, September 15, 2006

Non-western economic history I

Great thread at Brad DeLong's blog on non-western economic history. Threads like this really provide the motivation to write good economic history of Burma-Yunnan-bay of Bengal (c. 1350-1600). Couldn't resist making an obnoxiously long (but not obnoxious, I hope) comment:

>>Colin Danby: "Can anyone suggest long-scale economic histories of mainland and/or island Southeast Asia?"

Victor Lieberman (2003) Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830, Cambridge University Press covers 1000 years and references all relevant literature. Lieberman also employs the three way model of Smithian, Schumpeterian, and Solovian growth of Joel Mokyr, The Levers of Riches. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

>>Ari Levine; "Timothy Brook's _Confusions of Pleasure_ is more a cultural history of commercialization."

Which makes it very relevant to the Thorstein Veblen conspicuous consumption threads on professor DeLong's blog recently. Much of these luxury goods came from the Tai ethnic regions on the border of Southeast Asia in Yunnan, covered in:
Sun, Laichen. (2000) Ming-Southeast Asian overland interactions, c. 1368-1644. PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan.

Also, the management of China's northern enemies over thousands of years has an economic dimension to it. Arthur Waldron's "The Great Wall of China from History to Myth" covers "trade or raid" and Di Cosmo's online paper below covers the public finance transition from raiding to tribute to settled taxation which leads to the issues of land settlement and peasant mobility, good focal points for cross-cultural comparison: Di Cosmo, Nicola.(1999) “State Formation and Periodization in
Inner Asian History,” Journal of World History, 10:1 (Spring, 1999): 1-40.

Personally, analyzing the dynamics of pre-modern non-western economies on their own terms like Lieberman's book above is going to do more to enlighten students about how non-western economic (and political) systems are radically different and how naive solutions (like transform Iraq into American democracy in 90 days or less) are bound to fail. Better, that is, than broad questions like the Pomeranz what caused the "great divergence" question. Anthony Reid eventually backed off trying to apply a similar broad European-derived thesis (the "17th century crisis") from insular to mainland Southeast Asian history when Lieberman challenged him, see p. 9:
IMHO the beauty of historical work lies in the details, although it would be nice to see economic theory like Avner Greif's information economics explain more history.

>>Colin Danby: "It would be great if someone could post recommended readings on East Africa's role in the Indian Ocean economy."

Malyn Newitt (1995) A History of Mozambique, Indiana University Press
Covers Portuguese settlement and trade plus climate constraints on ocean travel and trade.