Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Philip T. Hoffman's "Why Did Europe Conquer the World?"

Philip T. Hoffman is the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. His books include Growth in a Traditional Society, Surviving Large Losses, and Priceless Markets.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Why Did Europe Conquer the World?, and reported the following:
Why did Europeans conquer the world? They were utterly powerless 1000 years ago, but by 1914, they had taken over 84 percent of the planet. Why did they rise to the top, when for centuries the Chinese, Japanese, Ottomans, and South Asians were far more advanced?

This question has vexed historians and social scientists. But so far they haven’t found a satisfactory explanation. And the question does matter, because Europe’s power determined who had colonies, who ran the slave trade, and who grew rich or remained mired in poverty.

The answer lies with political incentives that drove leaders in Europe not just to make war, but to lavish huge sums on it. Yes, they built palaces, but even Versailles cost French King Louis XIV less than 2 percent of his tax revenue. The rest went to warfare. All that money, as I show, then gave Europeans an insurmountable lead in advancing the gunpowder technology, which was critical for world conquest.

The other major powers in Asia and the Middle East could not match the Europeans’ military spending; the political incentives their leaders faced were radically different. As I explain in the book, they all therefore fell behind militarily, even if they were as rich as the Europeans or fought just as often with guns. And the book also shows why they could “not simply borrow the latest technology” from Europe “and quickly catch up” (p. 99).

Why were political incentives so unusual in Europe? My argument draws upon an economic model, but the ultimate causes were two millennia of political history that set European states on a distinctive path of development and military rivalry and kept similar political incentives from taking hold elsewhere in Eurasia. That is the real reason why Europe conquered the world.
Learn more about Why Did Europe Conquer the World? at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue