A Political Economy Approach
New Horizons in Law and Economics series
Edited by Alain Marciano and Jean-Michel Josselin
Chapter 4: Explaining the great divergence: medium and message on the Eurasian land mass, 1700 - 1850
4. Explaining the great divergence: medium and message on the Eurasian land mass, 1700–1850 Leonard Dudley 1 INTRODUCTION In 1712, an ironmonger named Thomas Newcomen and a plumber named John Calley installed a steam-powered engine to pump water from a coalmine near Dudley Castle in Staﬀordshire, about 200km northwest of London. Although to James Watt, some 50 years later, the technology of their atmospheric steam engine already appeared quite primitive, the machine was arguably the most important innovation of the past 500 years. It marked the ﬁrst use of heat to generate mechanical power (Rolt and Allen 1977). The machine combined three ideas developed shortly before by physicists of diﬀerent nationalities: ﬁrst, a vacuum used to move a piston (Otto von Guericke, a German); second, condensed steam to generate a partial vacuum (Denis Papin, a Frenchman); and third, a separate boiler to generate steam (Thomas Savery, an Englishman). Yet the two inventors had no scientiﬁc training. Moreover, they had developed their invention in Dartmouth, a remote port on the southwest coast of England. Both were devout Baptists, members of a non-conformist religious sect who insisted that their children be able to read and write. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Newcomen and Calley began their experiments, average income levels were quite similar across the Eurasian land mass. Estimates by Maddison (2001) suggest that in 1700, Europe had a per capita GDP of about 870 dollars at 1990 prices. Average incomes elsewhere at that time...
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