Wednesday, 10 November 2010
This BBC article asks why the West (ie Western Europe and North America) was able to dominate politics and economics for the past two centuries, but may well now be losing its advantage to the economies of Asia such as China (which David Cameron is visiting this week) and India. The answer, according to a theory by Ian Morris, of Stanford University, is geography, and in particular the Atlantic Ocean, which was "just the right size" for ships to cross and develop trade from the variety of regions around it. This increased trade created intense competition and imposed a scientific revolution, buoyed by Asian inventions such as gunpowder. Mechanisation and the Industrial Revolution followed, giving an immediate advantages to countries such as Great Britain which were able to use their naval power to build and maintain an empire. (You could also note that these were also the perfect conditions for encouraging the slave trade, which brought profits to England and America for almost 200 years.) Improvement in transport and communications has now reduced the impact of the Pacific Ocean's size, allowing the economies of the East to reassert themselves.
The combination of History and Geography has been considered before when considering long term causes, such as the "Guns, Germs and Steel" theories of Jared Diamond and makes some uncomfortable that historical outcomes are inevitable because of factors beyond our control. What do you think?