Modern Inequality and Early Modernity:
A Comment for the AHR on Articles by
R. Bin Wong and Kenneth Pomeranz

Europe made modernity both universal and uniquely European.[1] Kenneth Pomeranz and R. Bin Wong tackle one part of that invention, the idea that Europe contained a unique, indigenous capacity to industrialize that made it a universal model for economic development.[2] In the light of this idea, economic disparities among rich and poor countries seem to emerge because nations succeed variously in developing their own style of Western capitalism, as North America did most successfully. Europe’s modernity seems to be the secret of global success: the more integrated into the world economy any country is, the richer it becomes, as economies around the world converge along a trend of increasing productivity and material well-being in a historical process that is now called globalization. This entire scenario is in question, and these authors reconsider its original validity.[3]

Pomeranz and Wong accept the idea that industrialization launches modern economic development and ask why it happened first in Europe and not China, specifically, in Britain but not the Yangzi Delta. Scholars have answered this question in the past by saying that no matter how rich China had once been, it was not ready for industrialization in 1800.[4] Pomeranz and Wong conclude, however, that parts of China were indeed ready, which reopens the question, “Why Europe?” They argue that Europe’s modern productivity did not arise from uniquely European modes of economic organization or from uniquely European levels or patterns of economic growth in early modern centuries. British industrialism depended on British natural resources and British assets in the wider world. It occurred during a particular conjuncture in world history and could have happened elsewhere.

This work sheds new critical light on modernity by detaching its origins from Europe and by arguing that early modernity was not modernity’s logical precursor or inchoate immanence. Transitions followed unpredictable pathways. Contingency and conjuncture shunted China and Europe into discontinuous trends that Pomeranz calls “the great divergence.” As Wong indicates, exogenous factors affecting China and Europe moved inside networks of mobility that carried people, ideas, armies, commodities, technology, and finance all over the early modern world. These networks had a broad impact on regional histories in Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.[5] Networks that connected regions of early modern China, each with their own individual histories, also ran into Central Asia and overseas.[6] Europe had separate but connected regional histories that spilled outside Europe. Activities in and across the Atlantic Basin, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Rim participate in both European and Chinese history. Early modern spaces did not enclose historical territories in the manner of modern national boundaries. In the course of “the great divergence,” modernity disciplined the historical imagination inside national state territories, so that pre-modern histories appeared to operate inside the same national confinement.[7]

Pomeranz and Wong weave histories of China and Europe together in innovative and challenging ways. Changing times are changing historical thinking about modernity. Here we have two historians of China, teaching in North America, writing for an American journal, doubly transgressing boundaries of European history, first by comparing Europe to China, and then by saying that Europe’s take-off to modern economic growth[8] was contingent, conjunctural, and partly exogenous. These ideas seem to be apt for the history of an age before modern boundaries arrived, and for scholars in a day when modern boundaries are dissolving, but transgressing national histories presents empirical, conceptual, and diplomatic problems for a profession built on national sensibilities. My comments here focus, therefore, on the importance of “the great divergence” as part of a larger historical process of modern inequality that runs across all national histories and into the intimate nooks and crannies of everyday localities on all the continents.

Pomeranz and Wong describe an early modern baseline from which to measure economic inequality between Europe and China. They see Europe and China as having similar potentials for economic development in the eighteenth century. They argue that the great economic divergence of the nineteenth century defies explanation without taking into account exogenous assets that sustained Britain’s original industrialization. These assets were exogenous in two senses: some lay outside Britain’s national borders and others came from outside the market economy. Britain acquired coal, cotton, and profitable trade opportunities around the world by means other than “Smithian” market exchange. These assets gave Britain economic advantages China did not have. Britain used these advantages to fuel a modern industrial development that spread across Europe and North America, as Western countries enriched one another with industry (and, we might add, with many assets acquired by non-Smithian means, including all the natural resources in the Americas).

Early modern baseline similarities with Britain also characterized regions in South Asia, where merchants and manufacturers communicated and competed in networks of mobility that walked, ran, sailed, and then steamed from one end of Eurasia to the other.[9] As Wong points out, similarities among regions across Eurasia continued after divergence began. Industry actually spread faster in parts of Asia than in much of Europe and America. The first Indian cotton mill appeared in Bombay in 1853, and in 1881, the British government imposed the first Factory Act to counteract India’s competitive advantage from low-cost labor and raw materials. In 1914, India had the world’s fourth largest cotton textile industry. Textiles, coal, iron, steel, jute, and other industrial manufactures comprised 20 percent of Indian exports, valued at 10 percent of national income.[10] The American consul at Bombay then called India “one of the few large countries of the world where there is an ‘open door’ for the trade of all countries.”[11] In the next twenty-five years, Indian industrialization increased 58 percent, compared to slower, more uneven growth in Europe.[12] Nevertheless, India’s work force became increasingly agricultural and its population more subject to chronic hunger, in an open economy constructed on European lines, where most new farm investment benefited commercial crops destined for export.[13] In 1943–1944, famine in Bengal—provoked by world war and spread by ubiquitous market forces—killed three million people in one year.[14]

Economic divergence thus involved more than rates of industrialization, and indeed, more than economics. There were no statistics to measure diverging national incomes before 1870, but already by 1820, intellectuals in London and Calcutta claimed that Britain led the way to modernity.[15] This claim did not arise from economic analysis as much as from the cultural impact of British military victories over Napoleon, Gurkhas (in Nepal), and Marathas (in western India). By 1870, divergence was a global cultural phenomenon. Official statistics became its instrument and indication. Like Malthusian ideas—which were used to explain famine and indentured labor migration in India long before census data could measure population pressure on the land[16] —Europe’s superior productivity compared to Asia was taken for granted before it became a fact, sometime after 1850.[17] Even then, belief in Western superiority did not need much empirical support, and its explanation still less, because the new idea of divergence simply translated old ideas about cultural difference into the market lexicon of industrial imperialism. By 1870, the supremacy of white Western men had assumed its modern industrial form.[18] Modern theorists explained economic inequalities by reference to essential differences among people who ranked high and low on the economic scale. Difference explained inequality. Poverty marked inferiority and earned subordination. These basic principles of divergence applied equally to race, class, gender, and civilization.[19]

Modern knowledge substantiated inequality and made it sensible. Like the making of the English working class, modern inequality began before large-scale industrialization. As British armies fought the French and Dutch in Europe and overseas, British authors like James Mill opened a cultural space for British supremacy. Across the later decades of divergence, Orientalism provided a flexible tool for explaining Asian backwardness that Karl Marx and Max Weber wrote into the foundations of social science.[20] Social Darwinism evolved inside High Imperialism and implicated the poor in all societies. Already by 1845, however, English urban poverty and Irish famine mortality had made economic divergence a political issue in the United Kingdom. Debates about the causes of the Irish famine mirror those about Indian famines: one side blamed native tradition, the other British imperialism.[21] Such flatly two-sided debates became standard dramas of modern culture among educated middle classes, who learned to appreciate and normalize poverty as a feature of the modern world.[22]

Among middle-class reformers and incipient development experts, it became common knowledge that ignorance, iniquity, and inequity thrived among poor people. These components of poverty became targets for reform. Missionary zeal arrived in India during wars with Napoleon, but British abolitionism launched the age of modern reformism, when free labor became the hallmark of progress just at the time when industry demanded armies of workers.[23] After 1833, identical missionary and social reform efforts spread across the American South, Africa, and Asia. Reformers addressed a standard set of issues. The natives’ abuse of women became a favorite theme.[24] Development discourse emerged on frontiers of poverty produced by modern inequality, as reformers attacked rigid native hierarchy, despotic native rulers, local corruption, irrational superstition, primitive technology, clannish and tribal closed-mindedness, and blind adherence to archaic ways.

At the same time, however, native tradition—invented, rediscovered, romanticized, valorized, and enforced by law—became national culture.25 In 1880, Weber argued that each nation’s unique identity made the national state the rational basis for modern political organization and economic policy-making.[26] Weber spent the rest of his life sorting out cultural traits that constituted (universal) modernity and (national) tradition.[27] By 1920, modernity and tradition evoked codified collections of cultural practices that respectively promoted and restrained economic progress. National leaders promoted development with modern institutions and rallied the nation with tradition. In South Asia, linkages between modernity and tradition lay deep in “village society,” where traditional order met rural development.[28] Combining (Western) modernity and (Asian) tradition became the mantra of national governments as the subordination of tradition to modernity materialized in economic disparities between elites and subalterns. Tradition and modernity became political allies and adversaries as they attached variously to social conflicts fostered by modern inequality.[29]

The great divergence is therefore neither a singular process nor a simple empirical fact, and it pervades modern history as it combines and connects differently constructed inequalities in and across national borders. In efforts to historicize modern inequality, two approaches are most prominent. One considers territories such as national states to be separate entities. Comparing and aggregating data from separate territories produces larger empirical patterns. The U.S. Census Bureau, United Nations, and all international development agencies use this approach. Its historical and political implication is that each geographical container for data is responsible for conditions inside its borders. Another approach considers territories contextually inside wider networks of interaction, connectivity, and causation. This approach is more common in studies of poor countries subject to foreign intervention and external influence. Dependency theory[30] and world-systems theory[31] are two formal methods of contextual analysis that came out of research on Latin America and Africa, respectively. Studies of colonialism are always at least implicitly comparative.[32] Comparative history is a different exercise in light of each approach: independent comparisons consider territories separately, and contextual comparisons consider systems of regional interrelations.

Pomeranz and Wong invite us to explore the overlapping of these two approaches and to follow evidence in historical sources back and forth between them. It is notable that economic historians of China who write in English typically adopt a national perspective on pre-modern China. This in part reflects the actual closure and self-containment of the huge Chinese economy in pre-modern times; it also reflects imperial and national ideas in Chinese policy, ideology, and statistical data. Historians of Japan also often stress Japan’s uniqueness and closure in early modern times. In Japan and China, however, official ideologies and foreign accounts appear to have exaggerated the extent to which their economies excluded the outside world. As Wong indicates, they both seem to have been very much part of an Asian trading world in early modern times.[33] Pomeranz uses an array of data in cross-regional comparisons that lead him out of a strictly national perspective into wider early modern contexts of economic development.

Economic history in South Asia has had a strong contextual impulse from the 1870s, when Dadabhai Naoroji argued that the British economy was enriching itself at India’s expense. Naoroji wrote in England. He became a leader of the Indian National Congress. He invented economic nationalism “from below” in the midst of the great divergence, in a country supremely open to world markets under British control.[34] It is intriguing to imagine what impact Irish debates might have had on his thinking. The idea spread quickly that the world economy includes exploitative powers that benefit rich countries and deprive poor countries of assets they need to develop. In 1930, Jawaharlal Nehru expressed a homegrown underdevelopment theory by saying, “the great poverty and misery of the Indian People are due, not only to foreign exploitation in India but also to the economic structure of society, which the alien rulers support so that their exploitation may continue.” In this light, he clarified the project of nationalism by saying, “In order to remove this poverty and misery and to ameliorate the condition of the masses, it is essential to make revolutionary changes in the present economic and social structure of society and to remove the gross inequalities.”[35] Contextual dynamics of inequality inside South Asia have remained prominent since Nehru’s day. Current academic efforts to track the local impact of globalization have a rich pedigree.[36] New connections between the world economy and South Asian localities emerge every day. As I write, globalization seems to have increased violence against women over claims to dowry payments in India.[37] In the eighteenth century, multicultural enclaves of commercial capitalism in India seem to have sustained British trades and military adventures throughout Asia.[38]

Recapturing early modern history in its own context became more difficult as divergence progressed. British imperialists tossed aside Indian partners, and racial divisions hardened in India as British industrial supremacy expanded worldwide.[39] Once set in motion, global divergence and modern inequality changed their composition, organization, and conceptualization during four broad periods: 1820–1880, 1880–1920, 1920–1980, and post-1980. Scholars in each period recomposed early modern history accordingly.

It now appears that early modern authors themselves did not live in a world of divergence. Even when they wrote about economic development, they did not describe diverging economies or domestic trends in inequality.[40] Before 1800, inequality appears to be a static fact; and among places, it appears to comprise different amounts and types of wealth in different environments. In 1793, for example, Robert Bruce surveyed British activity in Asia without saying Britain was more productive or prosperous. He rather stressed that Britain and France sought to secure economic benefits in Asia with military victories, and that Britain had used its military “to revive its arts, diffuse its manufactured productions, restore its revenue, and once more, to give splendour to its empire.”[41] Thomas Munro spent thirty years in India working for the East India Company, in its peak years of military expansion, and he concluded that Indians were as much a nation of shopkeepers as the British.[42] In 1818, James Mill published his triumphal history of British India without claiming British economic supremacy.[43] Three decades later, however, Marx took that supremacy for granted.[44] Beguiled by the factory, Marx and his peers lost sight of early modern facts depicted simply and unabashedly by Bruce and Munro: the British military secured East India Company profits in India. A British alliance between the military and merchant capital had set the new empire in motion. Bruce and Munro did not know how much of that merchant capital was Indian and could never have known how important the India empire would be for British industry.

The surge in English factory production that beguiled Marx apparently began after Waterloo.[45] British war expenditure supplemented private industrial investments, and Indian revenues supported British war finance.[46] After the war, industry took center stage. British trade policies to support English industry impoverished weavers in Ireland and India at the same time[47] as the great divergence began.[48] After 1880, High Imperialism reorganized global disparities on a larger scale than ever before and began to institutionalize economic development at the same time.[49] In the 1920s, nationalist movements in Asia and Africa shifted debates about modern inequality into a national framework of analysis under the umbrella of the League of Nations and the British Commonwealth.[50] After 1950, High Nationalism covered the world of conflict over socialist and capitalist development strategies.[51] Two international meetings represent the official reorganization of modern inequality under High Imperialism and High Nationalism. In the 1880s, treaties in Berlin partitioned Africa and wrote the collective power of rich countries into international law. In 1954, leaders of non-aligned nations met in Bandung, where they defined the First, Second, and Third World, thus formalizing a division of the world into rich and poor, and socialist and capitalist, countries.[52]

After 1980, modern inequality lost its Cold War guise, High Nationalism declined, the Second World disappeared, and socialist development options gave way to globalization. Moishe Postone describes the new context as characterized by “the weakening and partial dissolution of . . . national state bureaucracies, industrial labour unions, and physically centralized, state dependent capitalist firms.” He explains, “Those institutions have been undermined in two directions: by the emergence of a new plurality of social groupings, organizations, movements, parties, regions, and subcultures on the one hand and by a process of globalization and concentration of capital on a new, very abstract level that is far removed from immediate experience and is apparently outside the effective control of the state machinery on the other.”[53] In this new environment, religiously inspired cultural nationalism expressed a new vision of modern inequality in and across national borders. Fundamentalism and majoritarianism flourished in rich and poor countries alike amidst invisible mysteries of the market, and in the United States, the great divergence exchanged its Cold War costume to become “clash of civilizations”[54] and “global anarchy”[55] infested with threats of global terrorism.

Freed from fears of revolution after 1990, experts have focused new attention on economic inequality untainted by class analysis.[56] The results are stunning. In an essay written for the World Bank and aptly entitled, “Divergence, Big Time,” Lant Pritchett calculated that ratios of per-capita income between rich and poor countries increased more than six-fold between 1870 and 1985, as income levels dispersed over an ever-widening range of variation and rich and poor economies clustered on either end of a broader spectrum.[57] Today, inequality is increasing. The gap between the richest and poorest countries is growing. The poorest of the poor are an ever-larger proportion of the world population. Absolute poverty increased in the 1990s most dramatically in Africa,[58] where an average household now consumes 20 percent less than twenty-five years ago.[59]

These trends implicate history in various ways. Historians who write about high-income countries study a shrinking global elite minority. The population of the rich OECD countries shrank as a proportion of the world population from 20 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 1993, and may be 10 percent by 2025.[60] Already, a mere 10 percent of the world’s people live in twelve countries with over $20,000 per-capita GDP, mostly in the United States (45 percent), Japan (21 percent), Germany (14 percent), and France (10 percent). Rich islands of national history are getting richer and smaller at the same time, which encourages scholars in rich countries to expand their global reach through area studies, world history, cultural studies, and global studies.[61] The best facilities for studying the world sit in rich countries. The United States has a dozen libraries with more books from South Asia than any library in South Asia. Most funding to study the world is in rich countries, where the most prestigious, well-funded academic paradigms emerge for economic and policy analysis as well as for history.[62] Meanwhile, 80 percent of the world’s people live and work in thirty-six African and nineteen Asian countries with under $1,000 per-capita GDP, large proportions in China (34 percent), India (26 percent), Indonesia (5 percent), Pakistan (4 percent), Bangladesh (3 percent), Nigeria (3 percent), Vietnam (2 percent), and the Philippines (3 percent).[63] Research and library budgets decline faster than national income as we move down the scale of national wealth. Even getting basic books and journals containing fundamental research on one’s own country is impossible for most history teachers and scholars in poor countries. All this material is in New York, Amsterdam, Paris, and London.

Rich people are increasing their share of the wealth. In the thirty years after 1962, the richest 20 percent of the world population increased its share from 70 percent to 85 percent.[64] Between 1977 and 1999, the richest 20 percent of U.S. households increased their share of national income from 44 percent to 50 percent, and the highest 1 percent increased their share six times more, from 7 to 13 percent.[65] Economic disparities globally, nationally, and locally—in India, China, Europe, and North America—appear to be increasing in comparable, connected ways. In this context, Ken Pomeranz and Bin Wong invite historians to reconsider the rise of modern inequality in light of new perspectives on early modernity fostered by contemporary globalization.

David Ludden is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. His three monographs are India and South Asia: A Short History (2002), An Agrarian History of South Asia (The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. 4, Part 4) (1999), and Peasant History in South India (1985; paperback edition, 1990; 2d printing, 1993.) Ludden’s most recent edited volume is Reading Subaltern Studies: Critical Histories, Contested Meanings, and the Globalisation of South Asia (2002). His current research is on the comparative history of capitalism in Asia.


1 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, N.J., 2000).

2 See also Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, N.J., 2000); R. Bin Wong, China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of the European Experience (Ithaca, N.Y., 1997).

3 The best guide to the literature is John Martinussen, Society, State, and Market: A Guide to Competing Theories of Development (London and Dhaka, 1997). On economists’ new thinking about convergence and divergence in light of new data, see

4 Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past (London, 1973); Philip C. Huang, The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta, 1350–1988 (Stanford, Calif., 1990); Susan Naquin and Evelyn S. Rawski, Chinese Society in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, Conn., 1987).

5 See Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Connected Histories: Notes toward a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia,” Modern Asian Studies 31 (1997): 735–62; David A. Washbrook, “South Asia, the World System and World Capitalism,” Journal of Asian Studies 49, no. 3 (1990): 479–508; John Lee, “Trade and Economy in Pre-industrial East Asia, c. 1500–1800: East Asia in the Age of Global Integration,” Journal of Asian Studies 58, no. 1 (1999): 2–26; Dennis O. Flynn, “Comparing the Tokugawa (sic) Shoganate with Hapsburg Spain: Two Silver-Based Empires in a Global Setting,” in The Political Economy of Merchant Empires, James D. Tracy, ed. (Cambridge, 1991); Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giráldez, “Born with a ‘Silver Spoon’: The Origin of World Trade in 1571,” Journal of World History 6, no. 2 (1995): 201–21.

6 William S. Atwell, “International Bullion Flows and the Chinese Economy circa 1530–1650,” Past and Present 95 (1982): 68–90; and Atwell, “Ming China and the Emerging World Economy, c. 1470–1650,” in The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part 2, Denis Twitchett and Frederick W. Mote, eds. (Cambridge, 1998).

7 Kären Wigen, “The Geographic Imagination in Early Modern Japanese History: Retrospect and Prospect,” Journal of Asian Studies 51, no. 1 (1992): 3–29; and Wigen, The Making of a Japanese Periphery, 1750–1920 (Berkeley, Calif., 1995).

8 On “take-off” modeled on Europe and theorized as a general process, see The Economics of Take-Off into Sustained Growth, W. W. Rostow, ed. (New York, 1968).

9 Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley, Calif., 1998); K. N. Chaudhuri, Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilisation of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge, 1990); Prasannan Parthasarathi, The Transition to a Colonial Economy: Weavers, Merchants, and Kings in South India, 1720–1800 (Cambridge, 2001).

10 Inland Trade (Rail and River-borne) of India, 1919–1920 (Calcutta, 1921); David Ludden, “Development in South Asia,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Baltes, editors-in-chief, 26 vols. (Amsterdam, 2001).

11 British India, with Notes on Ceylon, Afghanistan, and Tibet, U.S. Department of Commerce, Special Consular Reports, No. 72 (Washington, D.C., 1915), 9.

12 Morris D. Morris, “The Growth of Large-Scale Industry to 1947,” in The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol. 2, c. 1757–c. 1970, Dharma Kumar, ed. (Cambridge, 1983), 569, 576, 609.

13 The best short histories of economic development in South Asia are B. R. Tomlinson, The Economy of Modern India, 1860–1970 (The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. 3, Part 3) (Cambridge, 1998); and Tirthankar Roy, The Economic History of India, 1857–1947 (Delhi, 2000).

14 Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (Oxford, 1981), 1–86.

15 J. Majeed, “James Mill’s ‘The History of British India’ and Utilitarianism as a Rhetoric of Reform,” Modern Asian Studies 24, no. 2 (1990): 209–24; James Mill, The History of British India (London, 1817); David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton, N.J., 1979): and Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization, 1773–1835 (Berkeley, Calif., 1968).

16 Malthusian ideas were popular among administrators in British India by the mid-nineteenth century, and census data indicating population pressure arrived after 1900. I owe this insight to Rahul Nair, whose dissertation in history at the University of Pennsylvania concerns population discourse in modern India.

17 Frank, ReOrient, argues for this date for Asia as a whole. Dates would differ for comparisons between different parts of Europe and Asia.

18 Michael Adas, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca, N.Y., 1989).

19 Cultures of United States Imperialism, Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, eds. (Durham, N.C., 1993).

20 Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds. (Philadelphia, 1993); Bryan S. Turner, Max Weber: From History to Modernity (London, 1992).

21 Joel Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved: A Quantitative and Analytical History of the Irish Economy, 1800–1850 (London, 1983), 278–95.

22 Two examples of popular poverty appreciation: George Lambert’s fund-raising book for his relief mission, India: Horror-Stricken Empire (Containing a Full Account of the Famine, Plague, and Earthquake of 1896–7) (Elkhart, Ind., 1898); and Alexander Loveday’s 1913 prize-winning essay at Peterhouse, Cambridge, which declared that “Poverty in England, or America, or Germany is a question of the distribution of wealth [ . . . while in] India, it is a question of production.” The History and Economics of Indian Famines (1913; rpt. edn., Delhi, 1985).

23 Gyan Prakash, Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labor Servitude in Colonial India (Cambridge, 1990); Madhavi Kale, Fragments of Empire: Capital, Slavery, and Indian Indentured Labor Migration to the British Caribbean (Philadelphia, 1998).

24 Lata Mani, “Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India,” Cultural Critique (1987): 119–56; and Mani, “The Female Subject, the Colonial Gaze: Reading Eyewitness Accounts of Widow Burning,” in Interrogating Modernity: Culture and Colonialism in India, Tejaswini Niranjana, P. Sudhir, and V. Dhareshwar, eds. (Calcutta, 1993), 273–90; Chandra Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds. (Bloomington, Ind., 1991), rpt. in The Women, Gender, and Development Reader, Nalini Visvanathan, Lynn Duggan, Laurie Nisonoff, and Nan Wiegersma, eds. (London, 1997), 79–86.

25 The Invention of Tradition, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds. (Cambridge, 1982); Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London, 1983); Nicholas B. Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton, N.J., 2001).

26 Max Weber, “The Nation-State and Economic Policy (Frieburg Address),” Economy and Society 9, no. 4 (1980): 428–49.

27 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Talcott Parsons, trans. (London, 1930); Weber, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale, trans. and eds. (New York, 1958); The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism, Hans H. Gerth, trans. and ed. (New York, 1964).

28 David Ludden, An Agrarian History of South Asia (The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. 4, Part 4 [Cambridge, 1999]).

29 Richard G. Fox, “Urban Class and Communal Consciousness in Colonial Punjab: The Genesis of India’s Immediate Regime,” Modern Asian Studies 18, no. 3 (1984): 459–89; and Fox, “Communalism and Modernity,” in Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India, David Ludden, ed. (Philadelphia, 1996), 235–50; David A. Washbrook, “Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu,” in Dominance and State Power in Modern India: Decline of a Social Order, Francine R. Frankel and M. S. A. Rao, eds., 2 vols. (Delhi, 1989–90), 1: 204–64.

30 Fernando H. Cardoso and Enzo Faletto, Dependency and Development in Latin America, Marjory M. Urquidi, trans. (Berkeley, Calif., 1979); The Political Economy of Underdevelopment: Dependence in Senegal, Rita Cruise O’Brien, ed. (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1979); Ernest Feder, Strawberry Imperialism: An Enquiry into the Mechanisms of Dependency in Mexican Agriculture (The Hague, 1977); Tony Smith, “The Underdevelopment of Development Literature: The Case of Dependency Theory,” World Politics 31, no. 2 (1979): 247–88; Francine R. Frankel, “Modernization and Dependency Theories: Is a Social Science of Development Possible?” in Development, Politics, and Social Theory: Essays in Honour of Professor S. P. Varma, Iqbal Narain, ed. (New Delhi, 1989).

31 Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism (London, 1983), provides an overview. On the first Asian phase, see Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, Vol. 3: The Second Era of Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy, 1730–1840s (San Diego, Calif., 1989); South Asia and World Capitalism, Sugata Bose, ed. (Delhi, 1990), 21–26.

32 Hamza Alavi, “India and the Colonial Mode of Production,” Economic and Political Weekly, nos. 33–35, Special Number (1975): 1235–62; Homi K. Bhabha, “Of Mimimcry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” October 28 (Spring 1984): 125–33; Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, N.J., 1993); G. Balandier, “The Colonial Situation: A Theoretical Approach,” in Social Change: The Colonial Situation, Immanuel Wallerstein, ed. (New York, 1966), 34–61; Dale Tomich, “The Dialectic of Colonialism and Culture: The Origins of the Negritude of Aime Cesaire,” Review 2, no. 3 (1979): 351–85; Colonialism and Culture, Nicholas B. Dirks, ed. (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1992).

33 Lee, “Trade and Economy in Pre-industrial East Asia.”

34 Bipan Chandra, The Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India: Economic Policies of Indian National Leadership, 1880–1905 (New Delhi, 1966); Romesh Chandra Dutt, The Economic History of India (Calcutta, 1901).

35 A. Moin Zaidi, ed., A Tryst with Destiny: A Study of Economic Policy Resolutions of the Indian National Congress Passed during the Last 100 Years (New Delhi, 1985), 54.

36 For example, Dina Mahnaz Siddiqi, “Miracle Worker or Womanmachine? Tracking Transnational Realities in Bangladeshi Factories,” Economic and Political Weekly 35, nos. 21–22, Special Issue on Labour and Political Economy (May 27, 2000).

37 Dina Siddiqi, personal communication with the author.

38 See Lakshmi Subramanian, Indigenous Capital and Imperial Expansion: Bombay, Surat, and the West Coast (Delhi, 1996); Blair B. Kling and M. N. Pearson, The Age of Partnership: Europeans in Asia before Domination (Honolulu, 1979); Michael N. Pearson, Before Colonialism: Theories on Asian-European Relations, 1500–1750 (Delhi, 1988); Merchants, Markets and the State in Early Modern India, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, ed. (Delhi, 1990); Frank, ReOrient.

39 Blair B. Kling, Partner in Empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India (Berkeley, Calif., 1976); Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (The New Cambridge History of India, Vol. 3, Part 4 [Cambridge, 1994]).

40 William J. Barber, British Economic Thought and India 1600–1858: A Study in the History of Development Economics (Oxford, 1975).

41 Robert Bruce, Historical View of Plans for the Government of British India and Regulation of Trade to the East Indies and Outlines of a Plan of Foreign Government, of Commercial Economy, and of Domestic Administration, for the Asiatic Interests of Great Britain (London, 1793), 14.

42 For his data and reasons for this conclusion, see David Ludden, “The Formation of Modern Agrarian Economies in South India,” in The History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture, Vol. 6: The Economic History of India, 18th to 20th Centuries, Binay Bhushan Chaudhuri, ed. (Delhi, 2002). On Munro and his observations, see Burton Stein, Thomus Munro: The Origins of the Colonial State and His Vision of Empire (Delhi, 1989).

43 Mill, History of British India.

44 Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, Shlomo Avineri, ed. (Garden City, N.Y., 1969).

45 Angus Maddison, “A Comparison of Levels of GDP Per Capita in Developed and Developing Countries, 1700–1980,” Journal of Economic History 43, nos. 27–41 (1983).

46 Javier Cuenca Esteban, “The British Balance of Payments, 1772–1820: India Transfers and War Finance,” Economic History Review 54 (2001): 58–87.

47 Cloth and Commerce: Textiles in Colonial India, Tirthankar Roy, ed. (Delhi, 1999); Tirthankar Roy, Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India (Cambridge, 1999); Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved.

48 In the nineteenth century, pre-British India appeared to be a long, stagnant past without hope for economic development. Representations by James Mill and Karl Marx are exemplary. For a short account of trends in writing pre-modern Indian history, see David Ludden, “India before Colonialism: The International Impact of Indian Research since 1947,” in India’s Worlds and U.S. Scholars, 1947–1997, Joseph W. Elder, Ainslee T. Embree, and Edward C. Dimock, Jr., eds. (New Delhi, 1998), 265–82.

49 David Ludden, “India’s Development Regime,” in Dirks, Colonialism and Culture, 247–87.

50 The epitome of pre-modern Indian history as composed under High Imperialism is the Cambridge History of India (Cambridge, 1930). Jawaharlal Nehru summarized the national version of pre-modern history in his Discovery of India (New York, 1946).

51 On the intellectual polarization of economic history around conflicting visions of development, see David Ludden, “Agricultural Production and Indian History,” in Ludden, ed., Agricultural Production and Indian History (Delhi, 1994), 1–35. For primary documents, see Modern Asian Studies 19, no. 3 (1985), especially Irfan Habib, “Studying a Colonial Economy—Without Perceiving Colonialism,” 355–82, and Dharma Kumar, “The Dangers of Manichaeism,” 383–86. The work under debate is The Cambridge Economic History of India, Vol. 2, Dharma Kumar, ed.

52 The classic histories of early modern world history in its Cold War guise are William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago, 1963); and L. S. Stavrianos, Global Rift: The Third World Comes of Age (New York, 1981).

53 Moishe Postone, “Political Theory and Historical Analysis,” in Habermas and the Public Sphere, Craig Calhoun, ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 175–76.

54 Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72 (1993): 22–49; and The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York, 1996).

55 Robert D. Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy: How Scarcity, Crime, Overpopulation, Tribalism, and Disease Are Rapidly Destroying the Social Fabric of Our Planet,” Atlantic Monthly 273 (February 1994): 44–76.

56 For the latest, see, which is the World Bank’s official inequality web page. An array of current sources of data is available through links on my homepage:

57 Lant Pritchett, Divergence, Big Time (Washington D.C., 1995), Policy Research Working Paper 1522, Background Paper for the World Development Report, 1995.

58 On Africa and the recent “rise of the fourth world,” see Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, Vol. 3: End of Millennium (Oxford, 1998), 70–165.

59 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1998 (New York, 1998). Also available at

60 See the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at Pritchett, Divergence.

61 David Ludden, “Area Studies in the Age of Globalization,” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad (Winter 2000): 1–22.

62 Rich-country preferences directly determine paradigms for poor-country research at most of the world’s best-funded research centers. Academic tastes among rich-country readers may also influence poor-country research more subtly. See David Ludden, “A Brief History of Subalternity,” in Ludden, ed., Reading Subaltern Studies: Critical History, Contested Meaning, and the Globalization of South Asia (Delhi, 2002), 1–42.

63 These calculations are from 1995 UNICEF data on the UNICEF web site, They have since reorganized their site. Readers can find this material on the web, at, under my course “Hunger and Poverty in Market Economics,” Week 4.

64 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1992 (Baltimore, 1992).

65 Congressional Budget Office data, analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reported by David Cay Johnston, “Gap between Rich and Poor Found Substantially Wider,” New York Times, September 5, 1999.