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Obras de Prasannan. Parthasarathi

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I came to this book seeking to understand, "The Great Divergence." I'm from Tamil Nadu, India. I've lived in the West and constantly have questions about, Why the West is better?

Parthasarathi's book is laid out in the following way:

Outline:

The Great Divergence:
Part I: Setting the Stage: Europe and Asia before divergence
Part II: Divergence of Britain
Part III: Indian Path:



Part I:
Introduction:


Parthasarathy starts with saying that there were pressures faced in Britain. The Pressures involved competition in cotton industry, invention of steam engine, availability of coal

Parthasarathi introduces how various scholar’s have approached to Great Divergence. There’s three approaches to Great Divergence:

-First one involves, Property Rights (Asian rulers were despotic and could usurp anyone’s property)
-Second one is European Population lower and ability to gain more capital (Malthusian)
-Last one is Max Weber’s Protestant Work ethic (European Rationality)

Parthasarathi challenges european Scientific Culture and uniqueness. He says there were significant activity of Indian Intellectual life in 1800’s.

My own personal thoughts are: Yes, but what did they do? I think, on military wise, Tippu Sultan might have had his economy, military upgrade from French. This happens throughout history. French were hiring English skilled artisans, clock-makers during a time period. Within Tippu’s empire, Indians combined both European and Indian (local) knowledge. They wanted to understand nature.

Parthasarathi qutoes Edward Said’s Orientalism. He said, Said provided thoughts about Asia being not different from Europe. In-fact few scholars perpetuated the difference as, Asia, “other”. Parthasarathi disagrees. He says for Karl Marx, it is capitalism that provided divergence between Europe and Asia.

Parthasarathi argues we must not apply anachronism by fitting parts of history. Many bring categories of industrialization, social concepts before 18th century. In-fact some categories were not developed before 18th century. I think, this is true. As a lay-reader, I might fall into anachronism.

Part I: -Setting the Stage:
-India and the global economy, 1600–1800
-Political institutions and economic life


In this Chapter, Parthasarathi wants to explore and set historical state before getting into his key question, “Why Europe grew richer?”.

Parthasarathi quotes Immanuel Wallerstein, the American Sociologist and Economic historian. Wallerstein says, “The modern world-system took the form of a capitalist world-economy that had its genesis in Europe in the long sixteenth century . . . Since that time the capitalist world-economy has geographically expanded to cover the entire globe.”

As Wallerstein, most scholars believed that in Europe, had its center for Capitalism.
K. N. Chaudhuri, a historian from Birkbeck college, England showed that mercantile sophistication and commercial dynamism predated before the arrival of European merchants.

In 19th century, China and India were hubs of economic activity. China exported porcelain and Silk. This made China incredibly wealthy. India exported cotton to the rest of the world.

Parthasarathy says, India clothed the world. China was more critical that it monopolized world’s output of silver. He says that he is not there to replace Frank’s Sinocentric global system with an Indo-centric version. Sinocentric Global System means, China was the center of Global affairs, superior to every other country.

Before the 17th century - India’s market for cotton included Indian Ocean and regions close to it. Indian cotton were in demand and were readily accepted in Europe. Indian cottons were essential for slaves in slave trade (French slave trade).

Prathasarathi says another market for Indian Cotton was Americas. The Creativity and talent of Indian cotton cloth manufacturers were unsurpassed by anyone in the world. He says that there was a common belief that it was due to low wages in India for cotton manufacturing, they succeeded.

He gives some evidence arguing against this commonly held belief. Indian cotton was consumed around four corners of the world. As incomes and revenues grew in India, many around the Globe tried to imitate it. Britain successfully surpassed it through innovating with their inventions.

K.N Chaudhuri says, Indian manufacturing involved surplus labor leading to low wages. He says there’s not much evidence that productivity of India was higher than that of Britain. It was around 1760’s, new inventions improved spinning in Britain. He goes into details of A’in-i Akbari giving price and wage data on Mughal India. He says, calico weavers earned more than laborers in agriculture. Parthasarathy quotes, Robert C Allen, a british historian who wrote numerous works around Industrial revolution.

Allen’s conclusion was that standards of living were lower in India. He says, this has been challenged on the basis of voluminous data on prices and income collected by Francis Buchanan. Francis Buchanan was a Scottish Physician who made numerous contributions to zoology, botany and geograpgy while living in India. He surveyed several districts of South India around early 19th century. He called, Tippu Sultan, a wonderful projector, and reported that Mysore had succeeded in manufacturing “broad-cloth, paper formed on wires like the European kind, watches, and cutlery.

3: Political Institutions and Economic Life:

In Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith shared that nations of Europe were most prosperous. China and India had become stagnant. French physician, Francois Bernier provided an account of Mughal Empire travels. In Francois works, he mentioned that rulers oppressed their people, deprived of their rights and fruits of their labor. Montesquie read this account and wrote laws, customs, manners of orient remain unchanging.

Thomas Malthus argued that checks and balances in society involves famine, diseases to arrest human demographics. This would cause flourishing at times due to controlling Over Population.

He adds and says that Karl Marx, could write with great authority about Indian Society. He says, “Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society.”

In 20th century, In addition to the above two arguments, Max Weber added rationality to the list for divergence between Europeans and Asia. Here Parthasarathy is exploring these assumptions from Weber, He says Indian sub-continent is not different from Europe. Despotic ruler idea originated from Machiavelli’s book on Ottoman Empire, the entire region is controlled by one Master, and everyone else is his slave.

Due to Despotism, agricultures would not invest more in expanding their enterprise, merchants hid their investments and capitals because the Mughal empire owned everything. Parthasarathy has been trying to rebut European arguments against Asia throughout the book.

Irfan Habib, an Indian historian has offered a classic description from Mughal India: “It was inevitable that the actual burden on the peasantry should became so heavy in some areas as to encroach upon their means of survival. Parthasarathy says the despotic view has been discredited. Mughals were, King of Kings. They were power brokers who negotiated with Zamindars and other Local Rulers throughout India.

Parthasarathy clears my doubt about rest of India, it seems like King was extremely wealthy and others did not have a good quality of life. He says, Adam Smith’s critique of India was due to Caste System, most of labor stock had to stick with same occupation.

All Son's followed their Father’s occupation due to Caste, as a result there was no social-mobility. However, Parthasarathy says there were cases in 18th century, that there was mobility among occupations. He disagrees about Caste being a rigid structure and quotes Gholam Hossein Khan. He is an Indian Historian employed in English East India Company around 1780-1810 in Bengal. He lamented the lower caste. They, the lower caste members were becoming politically prominent. This was evidence of social mobility, availability of talent and money.

Parthasarathy says property rights were also not as insecure as Francois Berner (French physician, 1615-1679) & Adam Smith claimed to be in Asia. Funds were transferred through hundi and line of credit system. Karen Leonard argued that decline of Mughal Empire was due to less banking support.

Part II — Divergence of Britain:
-European Response to Indian Cotton
-State and market: Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire
-From cotton to coal


In Part II, Parthasarathy examines what made Britain lead ahead of India. He says, various powers had failed to protect their local economics or even think about the challenges from Indian cotton market or industry. In 1830’s British Cotton Industry caught up with Indian sub-continent. They had adopted coal. Wide adoption of Coal started to take off across various industries in Britain. Parthasarathy goes into details of Cotton industry giving various levels of accounting for exports. I think you can skip this chapter unless you want to know with extreme depth about various categories of Cotton.

Part III – The Indian Path
-Science and Technology in India, 1600-1800
-Modern Industry in early nineteenth-century India
-Conclusion


Why Science was not in Asia? He says, development of science was key for industrialization in Europe. He quotes Joseph Needham. Joseph Needham, a Sino Scholar from England had written volumes of books examining Science in China. What did Science rise from? He says, experimentation and belief that the natural world is intelligible.

In 17th and 18th century, Indian Sciences made important contributions to Astronomy and Mathematics. He says the Taj Mahal and other monuments during Mughal Empire were impressive. It was an evidence of activities of Science. These architectural masterpieces . . . would not have been possible had Jahangir not encouraged this family of geometers to develop their trigonometric skills into architecture.” Raja Jai Singh, King of Rajput Amber, sponsored Astronomy in India.

Parthasarathy had quoted William Hunter, a Scottish Physicist, Anatomist in earlier chapters.
He says, Tippu Sultan had financed important works in Science within his Kingdom. In Tanjore, Sarasvati Mahal Library was an important library. Tanjore was in Tamil Nadu, India. It was ruled by Serfoji, a King. Serfojji “quotes Fourcroy, Lavoisier, Linnaeus, and Buffon fluently.

The Greatest Library in North India was located in Lucknow, Uttar Pradhesh. He says, Awadh was center of Islamic rational science. A French – Polymath, Claude Martin helped to transfer European knowledge in Awadh. After British Conquest, patronage stopped and erased Science from India.
European visitors to the Mughal Emperor’s court were struck by what one Jesuit described as a delight in the “mechanical arts.” Akbar is credited with several inventions, including a method for the construction of prefabricated, multi- story buildings from iron and wood.

Parthasarathy says, Shipbuilding was of high quality around 19th century in India. In 1811, a storm off the coast in Madras gives evidence for quality of ships in India. There were advances in Rocketry. Mysorean Rockets first under Hyder Ali and his Son, Tippu Sultan were used against British English East India Company. The success of these South Indian rockets inspired William Congreve to experiment with the Mysorean designs in the Woolwich Arsenal in London.

To conclude, In terms of knowledge and technique, In the eighteenth century Indian workers were by no means inferior to those found in Britain or elsewhere in Europe. For more than a hundred years the reasons for the limited industrial development of nineteenth-century India have been debated.

Externalists place primary responsibility upon British colonialism in the subcontinent. Internalists give primacy to social, cultural or economic conditions within India. In this vein, British economist Vera Anstey and Indian historian, Tirthankar Roy fall under internalist camp.

In finishing this book, I see that Christopher Bayly (British Historian specializing in British Imperial history) has been quoted the most across all chapters. The English East India Company ruled India on a profit–loss basis. Around 1850’s and since then, quality of skills, capital fell in India. As the English ran on profit-loss basis, they did not want to invest in Education as it would threaten their superiority. It was also the case that without state assistance of some kind – and the form that this took varied widely from place to place – industrialization was impossible.

We can summarize that, Parthasarathy’s answer to Great Divergence, “Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia did not Grow Rich” is due to lack of right state policies and responses to external pressures.

Overall I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in West vs East, India, English East India Company, Interest in Economic History.

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gottfried_leibniz | Jun 25, 2021 |

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