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POLI 338 (20)
Juan Wang (20)

POLI 338 - Lin: Why the Industrial Revolution Did Not Originate in China

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Political Science
POLI 338
Juan Wang

Lin – The Needham Puzzle: Why the Industrial Revolution Did Not Originate in China I. Introduction Needham's puzzle: 1) Why had China been so far in advance of other civilizations 2) Why isn't China now ahead of the rest of the world? Competing hypotheses can be classified into two categories: those that see failure of demand of technology, and those that see failure of supply. Lin's proposal falls in the supply category. II. The High-Level Equilibrium Trap − China passed over technologically because of unfavourable man-to- land ratio − emphasis on male heirs led to early marriage and high fertility; population boom − meant that labour became increasingly cheap and resources/capital increasingly expensive − thus, demand for labour-saving technology declined − also meant China did not have surplus to be tapped for sustainable industrialization − this hypothesis presumes “bounded potential of agriculture” − agricultural potential, Lin points out, is a function of technology − thus, the crucial issue is whether the rising man-to-land ratio inhibited invention − however, historical evidence shows that slowdowns in technological improvements did not correlate with per capita acreage − furthermore, the claim that there was no need for labour-saving devices is tenuous − nor can inadequate agricultural surplus be the explanation, since surplus per capita was higher after the founding of the Ming, but history shows a deceleration of labour-saving innovations − lack of Industrial Revolution in China cannot be due to lack of demand for new tech III.Population, Science, and Invention − if technological change fails to take place, the problem does not stem from a lack of demand but from a failure of supply − what distinguished Industrial Revolution from other bursts of innovation in human history was how it sustained accelerating rates of technological innovation − Lin's hypothesis: China did not make shift from experience-based invention to science-based innovation − early invention stems from experience; thus, China was assisted by its large size of population − however, it did not build up scientific body as Europe did following the scientific revolution A Model of Technological Invention Technology - body of knowledge about how to combine set of inputs to produce a certain product. Productivity – net output (value) of given technology. − technology stems from trial and error − each trial can be perceived as random draw from invention distribution − if draw results in technology with higher productivity than existing technology, an invention occurs! − increases in an inventor's scientific knowledge improves the probability of his inventing a better technology; same with the inventor's ingenuity − two kinds of trail-and-error: experience-based (spontaneous activity of peasant, artisan, etc.) and experiment-based (deliberate, intense activity of an inventor) − experience-based invention involves no cost; experiment-based invention requires economic investment Implications of the model: − likelihood of invention is a positive function of the number of trials − probably of inventing better tech is a negative function of the highest productivity of previous draws from the invention distribution—the level of existing technology − increases in stock of scientific knowledge and improvements in quality of available materials raise likelihood of technological innovation Technological Change in Premodern and Modern Times − what separates technological innovation in modern from premodern times is the highest rate of innovation in the former − modern invention characterized by experiment-based discoveries, while premodern relied on experience − large populations would gain advantage in premodern times because of greater 'draws,' and because of larger pool of gifted people − “
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