By Chris Clancy
The study of economics poses many great questions. But there's one in particular, which anyone who has ever studied the subject, must at some point have thought about.
How come people in the West have had it so good, and for so long, compared to the rest of the world?
What was it about Western Europe which enabled it to industrialize?
Why did it not happen in some other great civilization instead – such as in China or India or Egypt or Greece or Rome or Turkey or wherever?
Why was it they never made it to the next level?
And then, as if addressing any Marxists present, he adds rather pointedly:
So … we're back to the question.
Where do we start? Would it be with the Renaissance, or the Reformation, or the Age of Enlightenment? Or maybe we could zero in on particular events - like the establishment of the first Parliament in England in the thirteenth century, or with Gutenberg in the fifteenth, or the Union of Utrecht in the sixteenth or the Glorious Revolution in the seventeenth?
Unfortunately not - any such starting points would be very much premature.
These scholars see the above periods and events, not as possible starting points, but rather as part of a process which was to lead to industrialization – a process which started many centuries before.
The history of great empires and dynasties is that they were ruled by tiny elites who had the power to behave with impunity – which they all did. The lot of the masses was one of subjugation and abject misery – of the kind which is still with us today in many third world countries.
As one great empire or dynasty faded so another would rise up to carry on where the other had left off - and so it always was – until something happened which would break the mould.
As the Roman Empire decayed and collapsed another did not spring up to take its place.
Instead, Raico writes, Western Europe fragmented into, "a mosaic of kingdoms, principalities, city-states, ecclesiastical domains, and other political entities"
In other words – there was a massive decentralization of power.
Put another way, if things got bad enough, people in this civilization had the possibility of "exit".
Add to this the spread of Christianity and the consequences of adopting its core values; something which would take in everything "from the mitigation of slavery [right through] to the concepts of natural law, including the legitimacy of resistance to unjust rulers".
Although very slow and gradual, the result would be transformational - the makings of something quite different from anything which had gone before.
As Raico explains:
And the upshot was a first:
Europe was on its way - and there was no going back.
Chris Clancy lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics.