necessary and sufficient conditions in the transition debate

Rakesh Bhandari rakeshb at
Thu Sep 18 17:36:56 MDT 2003

I share my attempt to figure out the propositions which are being
advanced in the new transition debate between Joseph Inikori, Kenneth
Pomeranz, Bin Wong, Jack Goldstone, Philip Huang, Christopher Isett,
Robert Brenner, Ellen Wood and others. And then there is the book by
LE Birdzell and Nathan Rosenberg: Why the West Grew Rich?

1. Agrarian capitalism (landlord-capitalist tenant relations,
competitive leases and rents) in a pre industrial world is a
sufficient condition for the emergence of industrial capitalism.

2. Agrarian capitalism was  a necessary but not sufficient condition
for emergence of the first industrial capitalist society: the
emergence of the first industrial capitalist society required the
development of agrarian capitalism--otherwise no possible way to find
dispossessed workers for industry and no discretionary income for
output of manufactories and later factories.

3. While agricultural productivity must rise in one or more of the
following measures (output per agricultural worker, output per
agricultural work hour, output per acre, output per capita)  for
industrial capitalism to find the prosperous home market on which it
depends, agrarian capitalism  is not necessary as a mode of
production for the rise in agricultural productivity on which
industrialization depends.

4. Agrarian capitalism is neither a necessary nor sufficient
condition for societies to achieve industrial capitalism once it has
already been achieved by another society.

5. Agrarian capitalism is neither a necessary nor sufficient
condition for the emergence of the first industrial capitalist
society; in fact agrarian capitalism did not provide English industry
with workers, much food, markets or capital. Moreover, the putting
out mfg tied to agrarian capitalism seems not to have issued into
Industrial capitalism. English agrarian capitalism concentrated in
the south of a regionally fragmented England proved to be not
sufficient to engender the Industrial Revolution which took off in
the north of England; nor did it play a necessary role in it.

6. Dynamic, cheap sea-based international trade unfettered by
mercantilism was a necessary condition for emergence as the first
industrial capitalist society.

7. Pre-industrial, agrarian capitalism or any other dynamic mode of
production for the raising of agrarian labor productivity still would
not have enabled the overcoming of the land constraint on which
industrial take off anywhere in and within Eurasia was bound to
founder; the abolishing of the land constraint required the good luck
of the geographically well situated ecological bounties of coal
deposits and New World land (as long as that did not fall to free
holders but was used at first at least to meet European demands) .


Ellen Wood seems to hold for all practical purposes  proposition 1.
Wood's argument regarding Holland may also have the implicit form of
modus tollens.  That is,  since agrarian capitalism is necessary and
sufficient for the emergence of industrial capitalism and Holland
declined before developing industrial capitalism, its commercialized
agriculture couldn't have been agrarian capitalist ( for if it had
been, it would have generated the agricultural prosperity that would
have engendered industrial capitalism).  The argument is logically
valid but the first premise seems false, and the conclusion that
Holland's agriculture wasn't capitalist by the criteria of her theory
seems false.


My impression is that Brenner himself is closer to 2, but I am not
clear as to what the other necessary conditions are.


Inikori clearly argues that 5 is borne out by a disaggregated
regional analysis of England's historical experience as the first
industrial capitalist society. The implicit point of course is that
dynamic international trade unfettered by mercantilist restriction
proved to be a surer and more dynamic path to industrial capitalism
than agrarian capitalism. Moreover, Inikori seems to be arguing 6 as
a way of explaining the Dutch decline--the Dutch were too tied to the
restricted and declining markets of 17th c. Europe and thus began to
suffer decline. So my impression is that Inikori rejects 1.

In support of 5, Inikori has also denied that American demand for
British exports was mainly driven by imports of American goods by a
world historical uniquely prosperous English agrarian capitalism:
"The more recent research has shown that the American economies -
with their abundant natural resources, much faster growing population
and income - were far
more dynamic than the English economy. What is more, a significant
proportion of the American products imported into England was re-exported (
more than half of the tobacco from mainland British America was
re-exported). Northeastern British America  (where a large proportion of
English manufactures were sold) exported very little to England. The
region's incomes spent on those manufactures came from direct exports
(including a large amount of services) to the rest of the Americas
(including non-British America) and Europe. Certainly, some American
products were consumed in the agrarian societies of southern England and
that added to the market for those products. But the stagnation of the
economies of East Anglia and the West Country in the 18th and early 19th
century suggests that they did not contain the kind of dynamism that
provided the engine of growth for the Atlantic economies during the
period.This line of argument is much elaborated in my book. Actually, Bob
Allen, Pat O'Brien and other authorities on English agriculture now think
that the development of English agriculture in the 18th and 19th century
owed more to the development of England's industry than the latter owed the

Inikori argues, in short, that English agrarian capitalism was not
the prime mover of the Industrial Revolution.


I think Pomeranz would argue for 3 which is not to say of course that
he thinks rising agricultural productivity is sufficient for the
emergence of industrial capitalism. My impression is that Pomeranz
thinks 3 is confirmed by Philip Hoffmann's study of the rising
productivity of French peasants and France's later industrialization.

Pomeranz also seems to think 5 is supported by Robert Allen's study
of England's agrarian capitalism (Inikori may be drawing on Allen as
well), and  4 is validated by industrialization on continental
Europe. Pomeranz may however willing be to accept 2 while adding the
other necessary condition of the abolishing of the land constraint
that was in effect throughout Eurasia before the industrial

But of course Pomeranz has argued for 7 partially on the grounds that
Jiangnan achieved as high as labor productivity as England in the
18th century and did  not industrialize (any small agricultural
advantage England may have had was probably the result not of true
productivity gains but of overwork and intensification which raised
output per agricultural worker); Brenner and Isett reject 7 on the
grounds that the astounding performance of English agriculture gives
no reason for pessimism that English capitalism could not have
overcome apparent land constraints or shortages of land through even
higher productivity, through trade, through innovation.


Goldstone may be arguing for 2 as well but would add the other
necessary condition of a scientific revolution. Goldstone may reject
7 as well, in the end, given the possibilities of scientific advance
to abolish land constraints.


Most surprising to me has been Inikori's and Pomeranz's recent
statement of 5. If they can establish 5, it does seem to me that we
will be left at present with a choice between or some combination of
Inikori's and Pomeranz's and Goldstone's respective explanations for
the Industrial Revolution/The Great Divergence. That would be true
even--as Pomeranz has argued--if England had alone achieved a
spectacularly productive agrarian capitalism the connection of the
Industrial Revolution to which remains opaque.

Yours, Rakesh

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