Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How fast can a community mobilize and redeploy resources given changing circumstances?

This morning I was at the dentists having a couple of crumbling crowns replaced.

Since all visits to medical establishments yield interruptions and time, I had After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires 1400-2000 by John Darwin with me to make sure all my time was well occupied. In the event, my dentist was highly efficient and I only got a few paragraphs of reading done.

It is early in the book and he is critical of traditional definitions distinguishing more and less developed countries. I liked this passage, especially the segment I have highlighted.
Modernity is too useful an idea to be thrown away. But it may be wise to accept it as a fuzzy abstraction - as a rough-and-ready checklist of the social and cultural patterns that favoured the production of wealth and power at a particular time. For the term to be helpful, however, it ought to throw light on the relative success of different communities caught up in the greater regional and global connectedness that accelerated so sharply after the mid eighteenth century. Being modern was not an absolute state, but a comparative one - indeed a competitive one. The best test of modernity might be the extent to which, in any given society, resources and people could be mobilized for a task, and redeployed continuously as new needs arose or pressures were felt. In principle, many different societies possessed this ability. In practice, and for reasons that we are far from understanding fully, for almost two centuries after 1750 it was North West European societies (and their transatlantic offspring) that mobilized fastest and also coped best with the social and political strains that being imposed. Far-flung empires, and a global economy shaped to their interests, were to be their reward.

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