Book summary: Why the West Rules for now

social development

  • Definition: a group’s ability to get things done
  • Levers available
    • subsistence – extracting energy from the environment
      • environment: physical
    • Technological – invention or innovation
    • organizational – management
      • environment: social
      • grounded in information processing
    • cultural – stability in way of life and thinking
      • environment: intellectual

Detractors of social development

  • Bigger cores create bigger problems for themselves
    • geography’s temporal advantage gets inhibited by the social development it facilitated
  • Detractors
    • Famine – population growth not sustained by food supply
    • Epidemic – plague n diseases killing mass population
    • mass migration – encroachment of other groups into territory
    • state failure – mismanagement
    • climate Change – causing crop failure

Premise of argument

  • Two groups of sufficiently large people are not very different
  • The only difference between two groups of people is their geography
  • East and West are divided by agricultural centers – YangZi basin versus Mesopotamia


  • Agriculture lead ability to accumulate wealth inevitably leading to wars
  • Change is caused by lazy, greedy frighten people looking for easier, more profitable and safer way to do things. And they rarely know what they are doing
  • Each age gets the though it needs
    • intellectuals are asked the questions social development forces onto them
    • Examples
      • Low end states versus high end states
        • network of allegiance
        • maintaining own armies
      • Axial age came after age of high-end state – Buddhism, Daoism, Confucius

Meaningful quotes

  • The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see, Winston Churchill


  • The Great Divergence, Pomeranz
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond
  • The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy
  • 1421: The year china discovered America, Gavin Menzies

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