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Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History

Reviewer(s):Horn, Jeff

Published by EH.Net (May 2013)

Gareth Austin and Kaoru Sugihara, editors, Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History.? London: Routledge, 2013. xiv + 314 pp. $140 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-415-45552-7.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Jeff Horn, Department of History, Manhattan College.

This timely and important book gathers together a number of challenges to Anglo- and Euro-centric explanations of the process of industrialization in various states and regions around the globe.? This volume, which appears in the Routledge Explorations in Economic History series, developed out of interactions at conferences, large and small between 2001 and 2012.? Collectively, these authors seek to test historically and then extend conceptually Kaoru Sugihara?s influential argument that the East Asian path featuring labor-intensive, resource-saving industrialization is diffusing globally and that this model offers a more realistic means of improving living standards without destroying the environment in areas that have not yet industrialized (p. i).

The co-editors, Gareth Austin, Senior Lecturer in Economic History at the London School of Economics and Sugihara, Professor of Economic History at Kyoto University, have assembled a superb team of scholars: Jan de Vries, Michel Hau, Colin M. Lewis, Kenneth Pomeranz, Tirthankar Roy, Osamu Saito, Nicolas Stoskopf, Masayuki Tanimoto, and Pierre van der Eng.? Inevitably, the various authors have done so with more or less success, but the overall product is valuable, both in gathering these studies in one place and in challenging a number of existing orthodoxies about the actual and theoretical roles of labor, capital and factor endowments in industrialization. The editors contend that: 1) the diffusion of the East Asian model has reduced regional inequalities between East and West caused by industrialization ad colonialism; 2) the diffusion of labor-intensive industrialization has generated the majority of today?s global employment in manufacturing; and 3) the Western path to development has not been and is not, at present, the sole route to industrialization, though they do acknowledge that the Western model strongly impacted the other paths (p. 6).?

The introduction competently sets forth the essential issues.? The next chapter is Sugihara?s latest refinement of his interpretation of East Asian industrial experiences.? His emphasis on improving the quality of labor as the ?vital element? in achieving global transformation is particularly welcome (p. 21).? In Chapter 3, de Vries provides a well-argued and balanced examination of ?The Industrious Revolutions in East and West? that focuses on the role of markets as the chief difference between the behavior of households in these two regions (p. 80). With an emphasis on the role of skill intensity, Saito posits in Chapter 4 that proto-industrialization should be understood as one form of labor-intensive industrialization capable of generating Smithian growth (p. 85). These four ?framing? chapters are provocative statements of arguments that have been made elsewhere, but here they are explicitly in dialogue, which sharpens the analysis considerably.

Based on diverse Asian examples, the editors argue that ?labour-intensive industrialization is transferable to labour-surplus economies through trade, investment and industrial and education policies? (p. 5).? This theme is explored fruitfully in chapters by Roy, Pomeranz, Tanimoto, and van der Eng constituting the middle third of the volume.? The authors emphasize in India (Roy), China (Pomeranz), Japan (Tanimoto) and Indonesia (van der Eng) the existence, persistence and competitiveness of small-scale, labor-intensive industry both before and during industrialization.? They all find that the industrial success of this model is based on relatively cheap and relatively abundant labor of relatively high quality.? The argument works best for India, China and Japan.? In the case of Indonesia, van der Eng explores, in somewhat roundabout fashion, why export-driven, labor-intensive industrialization was impossible before oil prices fell in the 1980s, necessitating the development of new opportunities (p. 195).

Outside southern and eastern Asia, the East Asian model runs into difficulties, as Austin himself acknowledges (pp. 291-92).? In Chapter 9, Austin analyzes the role of labor intensity in first retarding, then supporting manufacturing in West Africa before concluding overly optimistically that conditions may be shifting in West Africa?s favor (pp. 223-25).? He highlights the role of markets by demonstrating that cheap labor alone is not enough to support labor-intensive manufacturing (p. 218).? Lewis demonstrates that Latin America was chronically short of both capital and labor, which explains why there was no transition from labor-intensive colonial-era to capital-intensive modern industry (p. 244).? He explains that historical complaints about labor quality or labor scarcity actually reflect a lack of work, rather than any objective workforce deficiency (pp. 244-46).? Lewis?s history is far more convincing than his analysis of contemporary success in Latin America which seems to come out of nowhere in his account.? The volume then returns to Europe for Hau and Stoskopf?s discussion of nineteenth-century Alsace centered on demographic factors.? Although this piece contains much interesting data, it is too short.? Unfortunately, Hau and Stoskopf do not link their piece to the broader arguments, either theoretically and historiographically, that they evoke.? The book concludes with Austin?s extended historiographical examination of the interplay of labor-intensive industrialization and global economic development.? He explicitly seeks to expand Sugihara?s two paths theory by expounding a third model based on environmental constraints on the use of land and labor in West Africa (p. 292).? To limit the Western-bias of Alexander Gerschenkron?s examination of ?late developing? countries, Austin convincingly emphasize the importance of factor ratios (p. 297).

This volume presents an exciting set of economic explanations of global industrial development that fit the historical evidence far better than standard Anglo- or Euro-centric accounts.? A few shortcomings, however, require comment.? For a book that criticizes explanations that assign a relatively passive role to labor (p. i), it is startling that every single one of these authors deals solely with labor as an abstract collective.? Readers never meet a worker, even briefly, to illustrate a point.? In short, this volume presents a faceless version of labor without individual laborers which undermines some of the effectiveness of the focus on work and weakens the argument.? The related issues of global context and change over time are also muddied by the order of presentation.? To go from a twentieth-century chapter like van der Eng?s to Austin and Lewis, who both examine far longer periods, before returning to nineteenth-century Alsace is disconcerting and is not dealt with sufficiently in the introduction.? It should be noted, however, that these critiques do not undermine the basic worth of either the project itself or its conclusions.? This volume profoundly challenges existing orthodoxies and should provoke groundbreaking further research.? At the very least, these linked accounts are too firmly grounded in historical experience to be ignored and must be taken into account in any explanation of global industrial development in the past, present or future.? Despite its hefty price, this book merits purchase by every academic library.

Jeff Horn is Professor of History at Manhattan College.? He will soon complete Economic Development in Early-Modern France: The Privilege of Liberty, 1650-1800, under contract with Cambridge University Press.

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Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):17th Century
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII