Sep 17·edited Sep 17Liked by Étienne Fortier-Dubois

Lack of demand seems the most likely difference overall. Song China had a lot of people, but nearly all of them were desperately poor. Those who were not poor demanded highly individualized products, such as richly and uniquely embroidered clothing. Such products are not amenable to industrial production.

In Song China, I claim, there was minimal demand for mass production, the demand that sustained the industrial revolution in England, for small goods such as iron edges for tools, or nails, cutlery, beads, combs, or hand-mirrors; let alone purchased clothing, iron pots, books, glass windows, or more substantial furniture such as beds, tables and chairs.

This is testable in principle, by looking at large numbers of femur lengths of people from both areas in the relevant eras. Femur length tells you height and therefore adequacy of nutrition (and other attributes of the bone also tell you about nutrition and/or disease, and therefore living conditions). Adequate nutrition implies ability to reallocate spending to other things. Inadeqate nutrition implies the absence of demand for anything besides food.

Besides poverty, the European Marriage Pattern is another difference. In northwestern Europe after the middle ages, newlyweds formed their own household upon marriage; everywhere else, the bride typically joined an already existing household headed by the groom's parents (and maybe also containing sibling couples). New households are the drivers of demand: if they can afford it, they'll buy lots of stuff, new if they can.

I claim that the EMP, something expressed throughout the population, is a more important cultural difference than anything elites wrote about such as Confucianism.

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They did industrialize.


1. The America's were much farther a way.

2. China's internal complexities made control a legitimate way of dealing with problems.

Thus Europe did not overtake the Chinese until 1750.

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Sep 21Liked by Étienne Fortier-Dubois

A fascinating post! So glad to have stumbled across your substack. This kind of stuff is right up my street. I am quite tempted by the idea of the absence of a belief in progress but most progress often happens by accident, not by deliberate design (I’m thinking of Louis Pasteur), so perhaps it was also partly just down to luck that no one had a mistake that led to thought to innovate on some of the existing processes? Who knows for sure, but it’s such an interesting question to think about!

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Fascinating. There’s a book in this for sure...

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