The New Great Convergence and the New Great Divergence

Consider these three:

  • Columnist Martin Wolf of the Financial Times announces that “a great convergence” is occurring and calls it a world-transforming event. What he is calling attention to is that Northeast Asia (first Japan, then South Korea and Taiwan, and now China) have converged with the West in wealth.
  • Historian Niall Ferguson at the end of his book Civilization: The West and the Rest says that the rise of China, leading a catch-up in wealth and power by the Rest, is “a great reconvergence.”
  • Economist Michael Spence writes a book called The Next Convergence: The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World which is about the rise of poor countries. He thinks by 2050 about 75% of humanity will enjoy high incomes. (Reviewed here.)

Looks like an apt idea for the times. All of them are referring to a reversal the “great divergence” when the West grew wealthy and so diverged from the Rest.

What to make of this?

First, there is a new great convergence – as Northeast Asia converges economically with the West. This is re-establishing a much older pattern. Between about 1000 and 1800, Northeast Asia and Europe were the two most successful regions. Then, with the major exception of Japan, Northeast Asia was in eclipse. Now, it is looking like Northeast Asia and the West are again jointly the two most successful regions.

Second, this is also a new great divergence: the Rise of the North. We really need to explain why those two northerly regions have done so well.


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