Purpose of Research

In recent years interest in global economic history has grown and become a trend in economic history, partly to meet the need to understand sustained economic development in East Asia and other emerging states. Such research has attempted to identify the paths of economic development in various regions across the world from a long-term perspective, spanning at least several centuries. For example, it has been suggested that in East Asia a development path existed, which was labour-intensive and resource-saving, and thus different from the Western development path, which was formed through the scientific and industrial revolutions, and was capital- and resource-intensive. Whether or not a similar indigenous development path existed in other regions, such as Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, has also become the subject of study. For instance, a very large population (roughly 20% of the world’s population) has probably been maintained in South Asia for several centuries. And this ability to hold the population has survived political changes resulting from both British colonial rule and independence. It seems possible to suggest that this region has developed the technologies and institutions that suit its tropical and subtropical environment to make it possible over the long run.

    In order to understand the development paths of current emerging states, therefore, we need to formulate a theory of multiple economic development paths, which can explain the dynamic interactions between the environment, technologies and institutions. In doing so, we need to consider all factors that are important for the regional environment—including the availability of energy and water, and biodiversity—rather than following the classical political economy, born and developed in Western Europe, which regarded capital, land and labour as the main factors of production. Over the next five years, we plan to compare and consider the historical experiences of emerging states by investigating their internal logic of development, and to suggest new frameworks for comparison with the use of methodology of history, that is, by accumulating and examining empirical evidence. We will thus highlight the characteristics of economic development in emerging states from the perspective of path dependency. In this group, we will mainly be making direct international comparisons of economic development paths of China, Southeast Asia and South Asia, by referring to the stock of knowledge on Western and Japanese economic history, not as a yardstick, but as points of reciprocal comparison.