Explaining the Great Divergence: Medium and Message on the Eurasian Land Mass, 1700-1850
Article [Version of Record]
Is part ofCahier de recherche ; no. 2003-19.
Publisher(s)Université de Montréal. Département de sciences économiques.
- [JEL:N1] Economic History - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Growth and Fluctuations
- [JEL:O3] Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth - Technological Change; Research and Development
- [JEL:N1] Histoire économique - Macroéconomie et économie monétaire; croissance et fluctuations économiques
- [JEL:O3] Développement économique, changement technologique et croissance - Changement technologique
Between 1700 and 1850, per-capita income doubled in Europe while falling in the rest of Eurasia. Neither geography nor economic institutions can explain this sudden divergence. Here the consequences of differences in communications technology are examined. For the first time, there appeared in Europe a combination of a standardized medium (national vernaculars with a phonetic alphabet) and a non-standardized message (competing religious, political and scientific ideas). The result was an unprecedented fall in the cost of combining ideas and burst of productivity-raising innovation. Elsewhere, decreasing standardization of the medium and increasing standardization of the message blocked innovation.