A reader’s request for a 2ndlook at Nial Ferguson’s (NF) speech turned out to be an interesting read. Niall Ferguson’s lecture at the TED conference in July 2011 was posted on the TED website in September 2011.
Packaged with some shiny new wrapping paper, Niall Ferguson re-presented his TEDGlobal speech in Newsweek of Oct 2011 – with more polish to his rhetoric, repeating the same points.
The West first surged ahead of the Rest after about 1500 thanks to a series of institutional innovations that I call the “killer applications”:
1. Competition. Europe was politically fragmented into multiple monarchies and republics, which were in turn internally divided into competing corporate entities, among them the ancestors of modern business corporations.
Western societies divided into competing factions, leading to progressive improvements.
2. The Scientific Revolution. All the major 17th-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology happened in Western Europe.
Breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology.
3. The Rule of Law and Representative Government. An optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private-property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.
Representative government based on private-property rights and democratic elections.
4. Modern Medicine. Nearly all the major 19th- and 20th-century breakthroughs in health care were made by Western Europeans and North Americans.
19th- and 20th-century advances in germ theory, antibiotics, and anesthesia.
5. The Consumer Society. The Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better, and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments.
Leaps in productivity combined with widespread demand for more, better, and cheaper goods.
6. The Work Ethic. Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labor with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.
Combination of intensive labor with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.
For hundreds of years, these killer apps were essentially monopolized by Europeans and their cousins who settled in North America and Australasia. They are the best explanation for what economic historians call “the great divergence”: the astonishing gap that arose between Western standards of living and those in the rest of the world. (via Niall Ferguson: How American Civilization Can Avoid Collapse – The Daily Beast).
On reading NF’s first app, (NF on competing factions) got my 100% attention.
2ndlook readers will be stuck with the similarity between 2ndlook’s model of Desert Bloc behavior and NF’s first app. This model of Desert Bloc behavior was outlined by 2ndlook in February 2011 – well before NF started with his 6 apps story.
The Desert Bloc depends on extreme competitiveness between its own factions to gain leadership – extending the analogy of survival of the fittest. Some of its defining struggles in the last 1000 years were Islam vs Christianity; Spain vs Portugal; England vs France; USA vs USSR.
Such factions spring up around deified leaders based on a sharp identity – race, tribe, language, region, religion. Significant leadership struggles have broken out between even intra-religious sects – like Catholics and Protestants, Shias vs Sunnis.
Can different factions of the Desert Bloc, like the Christian West and Islam collaborate? The Islāmic Ottoman Empire and the Christian European powers could not get around to colluding with each other. Even the collusion between the Christian European colonizers was difficult. Unless it was over carving the spoils, dividing areas for exploitation – like Papal Bulls (between Spain and Portugal) or the Berlin Conference which triggered the ‘scramble for Africa.’
Post-WWII world has been been seriously influenced by the Desert Bloc. The Desert Bloc split into two factions. The liberal-progressive, democratic, Judeo-Christian faction led by America. Significant parts of the world has moved to the Desert Bloc orbit, and adopted the religion of Westernization.
To the very best of my knowledge, before 2ndlook, no one has ever outlined this model of behaviour – using these terms and this concept. NF also does not give credit for his first app.
Looks like NF has been boning up on 2ndlook – at Harvard University. Even the examples that NF uses are the same as the 2ndlook posts.
The first, he says, was competition. On Mr. Ferguson’s reading, political and economic decentralization made nation-states and capitalism possible. It was the intense rivalries between Western powers that gave them the edge … Remarkably, Mr. Ferguson notes, the most serious challenges to the West have come not from the outside but from within: for example, Hitler’s Germany and Soviet Russia.
the Cold War was not a struggle between East and West but “between two rival Wests, a capitalist one and a communist one.”
I was yanked back to two 2ndlook posts. One was nearly four-year old post – on the country model of the West. The other was a more than 3-year old post on the rise of corporations and their use by the West. Or the more recent posts that expanded on this subject.
Is this how Harvard professors build their careers – and reputations?
- Niall Ferguson Ted Talk: Author Discusses ‘The Six Killer Apps’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- India’s decline! Nabobs & Nautch Girls? (behind2ndlook.wordpress.com)
- Euro has better odds of survival than EU: Niall Ferguson (ctv.ca)
- China’s rise means resource-rich Canada should beware, historian Niall Ferguson says (canada.com)
- Gandhiji – A 2ndlook (behind2ndlook.wordpress.com)
- Niall Ferguson v Pankaj Mishra: battle of the historians (guardian.co.uk)
The interesting statistic (graphical representation by Catherine@Visualizing Economics) in this chart is the cycle of Western Europe GDP. This, you will note, largely tracks the rise and fall of slavery and its proxy, colonialism. The rise of the West has been a case of ‘consumption’ of slaves to fuel their economic rise. Note the rapid fall in Western Europe incomes and GDP after loss of slaves and colonies – starting from 1850s (decline in slavery begins) till the 1950 (when decline in colonialism begins).
The current share of Western European GDP is also a statistical miracle based on the Bretton Woods financial topology – and the statistical lag between reality and its measures. Having painted themselves, in a corner, with a high cost economy, a bloated welfare state, an aging population (again, a side effect of the slavery on social structures; who would want a wife, if one can have a slave instead), Western Europe is terminally sick.
Is Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the shape of things to come?
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Slavery (That You Won’t Learn from Django Unchained) (alternet.org)