The Emergence of the Global Political Economy

265 Pages · 2003 · 1.15 MB · English

  • The Emergence of the Global Political Economy



    Given the current fascination with globalization and its possible implications, it is

    worth keeping in mind that the processes associated with globalization have been

    ongoing for centuries. They are not entirely novel or recent in origin. The book focuses

    on the emergence of a global political economy as early as the sixteenth century

    although even this development had been preceded by centuries of changes leading

    up to a closer economic integration of eastern and western Eurasia. Several themes

    are addressed. The political economic dynamics for the global system can be

    generalized but they are not timeless. Circumstances helped create a global political

    economy and, once created, it continues to evolve and undergo transformation. Some

    west Europeans played an important part in the emergence of the system but the

    ascendance of western Eurasia in the system cannot easily be attributed primarily to

    various “superior” attributes of western Europe. The major exceptions to this

    generalization are naval technology and military weaponry but it is also easy to

    exaggerate the role played by military superiority. A number of other factors were

    just as critical, if not more so. Once the system was created, a major dynamic for

    political change focused on a process of challenge developed. Although we do not

    always recognize the continuity of this process, the major wars of the past 500 years

    have been caught up and focused on questions of leadership succession in the global

    political economy. While we cannot assume that this process will go on forever, it is

    possible to sketch out its general parameters, and to use the historical tendencies to

    speculate about the future of the global political economy. The argument is not simply

    that the system is or has been governed by a cycle of periods of economic-political-

    military primacy, and leadership succession attempts, although that has been the

    case, but also that there are aspects of the dynamics that suggest a potential for further

    fundamental transformation of the global political economy.

    William R.Thompson is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University and a

    former co-editor of International Studies Quarterly (1994–98). He has previously taught

    at the University of California, Riverside, Claremont Graduate University, and Florida

    State University with visiting appointments at the Universities of Arizona and



    Edited by Jeremy Black

    How states operate internationally, the nature of conflicts that divide them, the

    instruments they employ to pursue their ideals and secure their interests are of

    paramount importance to historians and the study of history.

    The International Relations and History series explores the international system and

    international relations between countries and nation states from antiquity to the

    twentieth century. The series investigates themes such as the structure of international

    society, notions of statehood, national interest and the practicalities of conflict,

    competition and co-operation.

    Forthcoming titles:


    Philip Towle



    Ralph Menning


    Roland Axtmann


    OF THE UNITED STATES, 1900–2000

    Nigel J.Ashton


    Joseph Smith THE EMERGENCE



    William R.Thompson

    London and New York First published 2000

    by Routledge

    11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE

    Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge

    29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001

    Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group

    This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003.

    © 2000 William R.Thompson

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or

    utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now

    known or hereafter invented, including photocopying, recording, or in

    any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing

    from the publishers.

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

    A catalogue record for this book is available

    from the British Library

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

    A catalog record for this book has been requested

    ISBN 0-203-45302-6 Master e-book ISBN

    ISBN 0-203-76126-X (Adobe eReader Format)

    ISBN 0-415-214-521 (hb)

    ISBN 0-415-214-53X (pb) CONTENTS

    List of figures vii

    List of tables viii

    Preface ix

    PART I

    Introduction and overview 1

    1 K-waves, leadership cycles, and global war: an orientation 3

    2 Evolutionary and coevolutionary considerations 22


    The ascendance of western europe 37

    3 The 1490s: a question of evolutionary (dis)continuity? 39

    4 The divergent coevolution of two eurasian regions 54

    5 The military superiority thesis 74


    The leadership challenge sequence 101

    6 The emergence of a challenge process 103

    7 Mountains of gold and iron 119

    8 Challenges in the active zone 134



    Structural change and evolution 157

    9 Britain as a system leader in the nineteenth and twentieth

    centuries 159

    10 The Anglo-American rivalry before World War I 188

    11 Passing the torch in a manner of speaking: the system

    leader lineage 205

    Notes 222

    References 233

    Index 246

    vi FIGURES

    1.1 Innovation, concentration and warfare 17

    2.1 Coevolving parts of the whole 30

    4.1 Chinese and west European population growth, 200 BC-1500 AD 62

    8.1 A more intensive challenger model 145

    9.1 British relative decline 184

    10.1 US-British trade as proportions of their total trade 197

    10.2 The British-US transition in leading sector leadership 198

    10.3 Rational choice versus evolutionary approaches to rivalry analyses 201

    11.1 Constant’s turbojet partial heritage 210

    11.2 Commercial-maritime lineages 219

    vii TABLES

    1.1 Long cycles in global politics: learning and leadership patterns 8

    1.2 The hypothesized relationship between the learning long-cycle and

    global lead industries 11

    1.3 Predicted versus observed growth peaks in global lead industries 12

    1.4 Global war coalitions 14

    1.5 Attainment of global leadership and the timing of K-waves 16

    3.1 Endogeneity/exogeneity and the uniqueness of Europe in

    representative explanations of European ascendancy 43

    4.1 The presence or absence of certain critical factors in the transition

    of economic growth leadership from east to west 68

    5.1 The timing of imperial expansion and contraction (measured in

    squared megameters) 95

    8.1 Global lead economies 137

    8.2 Principal challengers and outcomes 147

    8.3 Testing the challenger model 148

    8.4 The historical evolution of challenger strategies 150

    8.5 Historical periods of capital accumulation and organization of

    companies with international activities 152

    9.1 Attributes alleged to distinguish history and social science 163

    9.2 Seventeen antistructuralist assertions about Britain’s role as a

    system leader 168

    9.3 Paul Kennedy’s theory of structural change 170

    9.4 Britain’s decline in naval power and leading-sector production 182

    10.1 Anglo-American crises after 1783 191

    10.2 Selected Anglo-American trade data 196

    11.1 An illustration of selected technological lineages 209

    11.2 Information technology dealt with horizontally and longitudinally 211

    11.3 US net foreign capital input as a ratio of net domestic capital

    formation 215

    viii PREFACE

    Book projects tend to have multiple origins and reflect several impulses. This one is

    no exception. It is my seventh book (counting authored, coauthored, and edited

    volumes) on the subject of world system development. Path dependencies being what

    they are, it should come as no surprise that I am continuing to work in this area.

    There is so much yet to be done that I doubt very much that it will be my last book

    on the subject. A second source, though, was Jeremy Black’s kind invitation to write

    something for this new series on historical topics. I think Jeremy thought it would

    be interesting to see if I could do a book without numbers in it. On my part, as a

    non-historian, the idea of getting a more direct access to historians and their students

    certainly had appeal. A third source can be laid at Jack Levy’s doorstep. Sometime

    around 1994, he invited me to do a paper commemorating the 500th anniversary of

    1495 for an International Studies Association panel. The year 1495 did not mean

    too much to me but it was close enough to 1494, which did have meaning, for me to

    go along. Not only did it turn out that I was the only one to go along on the “1495”

    panel (everybody else on the panel wrote about something else), I ended up with a

    very long paper that I would either have to extend even further or else walk away

    from it altogether. That paper became the core of chapters 3 and 4 and, a few years

    later, encouraged me to try my hand at the related subject of chapter 5.

    There are four other sources. One was an aborted, coauthored project on the idea

    of challenges and challengers from the early 1990s that somehow never proceeded

    very far. Again, I had written a very long paper for my part of the project but the

    other chapters were never quite forthcoming. After a few of these situations, you

    begin to identify with the first man out of a World War I trench who chances to

    look behind him and sees that no one else is following. The rational thing to do is to

    get back to the trench as fast as possible. I’m afraid my inclination is to keep charging

    the “enemy,” with or without company. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 stem from that project.

    George Modelski has been trying to educate me for thirty years so far. I hope he

    does not abandon the project. His latest innovation has been in moving toward the

    development of an evolutionary paradigm for international politics. I find that I

    tend to resist his arguments at first and then ultimately become convinced that he

    was right all along. Speaking, no doubt, to the question of to whether some people


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