[Documents menu]History of the world economy
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 1995 21:37:03 -0500
Sender: H-NET List for World History <H-WORLD@msu.edu>
From: "Patrick Manning, Northeastern University" <MANNING@neu.edu>
Subject: Asian-based world economy

Asian-based world economy

By Patrick Manning, Northeastern University, manning@neu.edu
25 November, 1995

Gunder Frank's excerpt from his forthcoming study, asserting the dominance of an Asian-based world economy until about 1815, provides the sort of lively and iconoclastic analysis we have come to expect from his fertile keyboard. While we will have to wait to scrutinize the details, his circulation of this excerpt invites questions. Here are mine: they both address the internal mechanism of the Asian economy.

  1. What was the structure of this Asian-based world economy? I find credible the notion of a concentration of Asian wealth, 1400-1800, and I find equally credible the notion of significant Asian capital accumulation and industrial production. (I'm a bit more cautious about the notion of high productivity, mostly because it's defined differently with regard to labor, land, capital.) But I'm curious as to whether the Asian-based world economy had a structure analogous to those proposed for the European-based world economy by Frank, Wallerstein and others. In particular, was there an Asian center, and did it depend on its peripheries in the same way as the European system?
  2. Did precious-metal imports serve to sustain or undercut the Asian-based world economy? The empirical issue of large-scale imports of silver and gold into Asia seems resolved in general. Frank has added to this the judgment that Europeans, in carrying these metals to Asia, found their point of entry into Asian trade. But were the silver and gold a cause of Asian economic strength, a reflection of that strength, or a brake on accumulation and growth?