Tutor: David Clayton

Module type: Comparative Histories

Module Code: HIS00018H

The pattern of the recent economic past is well known. The West (North America, and Northern Europe) got richer; and the Rest (large parts of Africa, and Asia) got, relatively speaking, poorer. But there were some interesting exceptions: Japan, and the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) caught up with the West. This pattern was, in hindsight, highly surprising. No contemporary economist, economic historian, politician or media pundit would have predicted these trends in say 1950: they would all have placed their bets on Argentina, or even Ghana (then the resourse-rich British colony the Gold Coast), converging with Western living standards; and no bets would have been placed on Japan, a resource-poor country, with no oil or coal, which had just been defeated in the Pacific War and which was (like Iraqi today) occupied by American military forces.

This course has, therefore, two aims. The first is to plot more precisely the trends above, and to look at Asian development, where possible, in its own terms. Is there an Asian mode of development? Did the group-orientation of Asian societies affect social organisation and, in turn, how goods and services were exchanged? The second is to consider some of ideas put forward by economic historians and development economists to explain Asian convergence: on the differential impact of new technologies; on the processes of cultural change; on good and bad government policies; on environment-cum-population constraints and how they were overcome. Examples will be drawn from Japanese, Greater Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Korean economic histories.

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:

  • Development: concepts, orientations and comparators
  • Asian societies: cultural building blocks and obstacles to growth
  • Populations: puzzles, problems and policies
  • Agriculture: rice economies
  • Agriculture: consumption and production in peasant societies
  • Industry: artisan versus mass production
  • Government policies: guided-markets in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
  • Government policies: planned economies across the recent Chinese past
  • Environmental constraints and long term costs of development