Blogs > Cliopatria > Capital Formation

Feb 6, 2004 7:00 pm

Capital Formation

A friend and contributor of B&W's, a journalist (from the UK) in Shanghai, would like to know of any books that look at the economic development of early America. It's for something he's working on -

The idea is that"economic development" everywhere - essentially the transformation from countryside to city, the movement of people - is bound to cause pain and dislocation, and I was looking for concrete examples.. Many reporters seem to believe that the process here in China is somehow uniquely evil, when in fact it is just an accelerated version of what has gone on elsewhere.. The tone in the reports is almost like,"God, China has problems, has an oppressive government, has people suffering," with the assumption that nothing like this has happened before...

I have no idea, myself, so I told him I would ask here.

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Ophelia Benson - 2/10/2004

Yup, collapse without earthquakes. I was partly thinking of earthquakes, but also thinking of the apartment block that did collapse without an earthquake - without anything in particular, apparently - in the middle of the night in Turkey a few days ago.

I find myself pondering this figure at odd moments. 400 million in 16 years - it's hard to get the mind around. Let's hope David keeps us posted.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/9/2004

That number struck me, too. This transformation is rough enough even when you don't force feed it. Bad housing (I'd bet money that some building collapse, without Earthquakes), malnutrition if not starvation, and most of that 400 million aimed toward working in a sweatshop, if they're lucky.

On the bright side, Walmart should be pleased.

Ophelia Benson - 2/9/2004

Wow. 400 million people in 16 years. Let's hope that doesn't translate to too many sub-code apartment blocks that suddenly collapse in the middle of the night...

To say nothing of all the other kinds of upheaval, of course.

David Stanway - 2/9/2004

Thanks for the advice. I think the exceptionalism tends to exist mainly in the foreign press, which often seems to believe that everything the Chinese do - buy mobile phones, commit crime, have sex - is inherently astonishing.

David Stanway - 2/9/2004

Yes, thanks a lot!

David Stanway - 2/9/2004

I think there are more similarities than you would think, because the sort of areas now being transformed by economic development - the most famous case is in the Three Gorges region - are hardly moving away from a traditional state-owned economy in the same way that Minsk or Warsaw might be. For many rural communities in China at the moment, their traditional ways of life are being replaced by petrochemical complexes, industrial parks, and even golf courses, and this seems to be universal, and universally painful. The government here hopes to lift the urbanization rate from 35% of the population to 65% by 2020, which means that 400 million people must - one way or another - be moved to the cities.


Oscar Chamberlain - 2/7/2004

Each transition is in some way unique. Certainly, state socialist to capitaist is a whole sub-category.

But in this case the questioner wanted to see what similarities did exist. Probably the US experience will have less in common with the Chinese than many other countries, but who knows? there may be more in common than either you or I would expect.

Ophelia Benson - 2/7/2004

Thanks, all. David's very pleased with the help (and furthermore he likes Cliopatria). I suggested he comment...but it's the middle of the night in Shanghai.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2004

If you want the downside in Japan's case, check out Mikiso HANE's "Peasants, Rebels, and Outcastes: the underside of Modern Japan." Or, if you want a broader survey, his "Modern Japan: A History" is pretty grim, too. I can almost always tell when a non-expert is using Hane as their main source: it is the most uncompromisingly negative portrayal of the Meiji era I've ever read.

On smaller or larger scales, every technological or organizational change has produced dislocation for someone. TC Smith said that you can't change productive methods without affecting social relations, and it's quite true.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/6/2004

But doesn't the question itself simply discount the uniqueness of the kind of transition which is currently going on in formerly Communist states -- from state socialism to forms of free market capitalism. We have experienced transitions, but I doubt that they have been very much like the kind of transition which is going on in China.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/6/2004

Charles Seller's "Market Revolution" comes to mind. It is fascinating, though sometimes more difficult to read than I think is necessary. Still it provides a powerful look at the ways in which the growth of f a cash/market economy unsettled the US in the antebellum period.

Robert Wiebe "Opening of American Society" is my favorite on this period but, sadly, is out of print.

However, Wiebe's "Search for Order," though post-Civil War in focus, is in print and is, in theme quite relevant to this inquiry.

It is interesting to realize that the Chinese have a strong a sense of exceptionalism as Americans do.