How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World
by Nathan Rosenberg, by L.E. Birdzell Jr.
Basic Books, 353 pp., $19.95
The world may be divided between the haves and the have-nots, or to put it differently, between the eaters and dieters on the one hand, and those who can’t get enough to eat on the other. This division reflects in turn a huge difference in productivity: the eaters and overeaters produce more (though they do not necessarily work harder) and get more; and this difference, if not growing (it depends on whose figures you believe), is not shrinking fast enough to suit the desires of the poor or the conscience of the rich.
This, put crudely, is the so-called North–South problem. A closer look reveals that on both sides of the great divide diversity is the rule. Britain, for example, once Workshop of the World, has grown more slowly than its European neighbors for a century now, so that northern Italy, once a picturesque stop on the Grand Tour, may have passed it by in income per head—much to the astonishment of Liverpool soccer fans who travel to Milan. Over this same period, the Japanese rise has been spectacular, so that our stereotypical images have become staccato in character—from the quaint, gowned figures of The Mikado and Madame Butterfly, to those sly purveyors of dime-store trash, to the brilliant innovators and unbeatable competitors of the electronic age. If trends continue, they will be well ahead of the United States (and own a lot of it) in another generation. We have now incorporated Japan into what we call the West.
In the so-called third world, the same diversity prevails, with oil-producing countries at the top, some of them enjoying incomes higher than those of the richest industrial nations (it’s their oil, but we gave it value); new industrializers such as Korea and Taiwan, poor in material resources but quick to learn modern technologies; old industrializers such as India. Brazil, and Argentina, rich in resources, material and human, but burdened with old ways, social contrasts and conflicts, political instability; would be industrializers that lack the human resources and capital and are running hard to stay in place (the more successful sub-Saharan countries are in this position); and a few backsliders, crippled by bad government, natural catastrophe, unfavorable geography, unhappy history (again Africa furnishes the most examples, but one could also point to postrevolutionary Cuba and long-suffering Haiti).
For all this diversity, the nations of the third world are determined to maintain their psychological and political solidarity vis-à-vis the fat cats of the North or West. In unity there is strength, and they have a common sense of grievance, justified by charges of exploitation and (neo-) colonialism, but resting at bottom on envy and resentment: Why should you be so rich, and we so poor? You so strong, and we so weak? Surely justice commands otherwise.
This sense of grievance has grown with exposure to Western goods and ideas. Where once these distant peoples were isolated, the revolution in communications (radio, film, cassettes, above all, television) and the …