Robert Fogel & Charles Pearson

The great Australian book of the 19th century was Charles Pearson’s 1893 National Life and Character. Summarised by Pearson’s biographer as:

Drawing on observations made in his travels, wide reading and knowledge of the Australasian colonies, he made two main predictions: first, that the so-called ‘higher races of men, or those which are held to have attained the highest forms of civilisation’ would in a few decades find themselves ‘elbowed and hustled and perhaps even thrust aside’ by people whom they had assumed to be innately servile; he made a particular point of China’s potential, claiming that it only needed a dynamic new religion like Islam, the genius of a ruler like Peter the Great and modern European industrial techniques to become one of the world’s most formidable powers; second, he concluded that in English-speaking and European countries the state would increasingly take over the traditional roles of family and church. ‘We may imagine the State crèche, and the State doctor, and the State school, supplemented, it may be by State meals, and the child, already drilled by the State, passing out from school into the State work-shop’. Most people would live out meaningless lives in huge, orderly, dull cities. But such a degree of socialism would not remove national rivalries, and youths would be conscripted for service in large standing armies.

Many years since I read the book and perhaps this summary understates the racial themes of the work, even if most Australian historians have  overestimated them and ignored the quasi-Weberian tone of what Theodore Roosevelt in his famous review of the book called Pearson’s ‘melanchony conclusions’. I was reminded of Pearson when reading a recent paper by Robert Fogel Capitalism and Democracy in 2040. Fogel muses on the possibility of China maintaining its growth rates, argues that this is possible and suggests that by 2040 China will be responsible for 40% of world GDP, India for 12%, the US for 14% and the European Union for only 5%. India, China, Japan and South-East Asia will together account for 66% of world GDP, compared to 30% now.Fogel highlights the decline of Europe due principally to a stagnant and ageing population. Donald Sasson argued that socialism having begun in Europe now found it its last redoubt. The argument about the economic impact of European social regulation goes back and forth, but perhaps in the end it is not that significant either way. However Fogel’s estimates of 2040 per capita income seem hard to credit; that the US will be well over twice that of Europe and China will be slightly more than twice than Europe. Fogel says:

It may well be the case that English will survive as the principal commercial language until 2040, but I suspect that there will be an explosion of business managers in the West who speak Mandarin. 

Add Prime Ministers. Still when all is said and done this is an epic tale, of The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death. A tale that attracts little attention from the analysts of capitalism in Australia.

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