National and Regional Patterns of Convergence and Divergence
Edited by John Adams and Francesco Pigliaru
Chapter 1: On the economic rise and decline of nations
Page 15 1. On the economic rise and decline of nations Dennis C. Mueller The idea that nations rise and decline calls to mind the grander hypotheses that civilizations or cultures rise and decline as put forward by Oswald Spengler (1922, 1923) and Arnold Toynbee (1946, 1957). The rise and decline of the great civilizations and empires is to a considerable degree a history of military conquest and then defeat. As Paul Kennedy (1987) has demonstrated for the last half of the millennium, a military rise and decline is inevitably also a story of economic rise and decline, but there is clearly much more involved than economics. Moreover, in some cases, as with the Ottoman Empire, the story seems to be largely one of military superiority and inferiority, of governmental efficiency in running a military state, with economic prowess clearly taking a back seat (FernándezArmesto, 1995, pp. 239–1, 379– 80). Other factors beyond economic and military strength may also have played important roles in the fortunes of past empires. Toynbee (1946, 1957) emphasized the contribution of religious zeal and religious decay, Spengler (1922, 1923) described a process of general cultural decline. I am an economist, and my comparative advantage in the study of history does not fall in the areas of military, cultural and religious history. Indeed, most historians would probably argue that economists are particularly illtrained and illsuited to the study of culture and religion. I shall therefore mostly confine myself to the question...
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