The Fruits of Civilization (25) Latecomers


Those late to industrialization – notably the Mediterranean countries, southeastern Europe, and imperial Russia  – shared commonalities. The most telling was an abysmally low level of human capital. Adult literacy rates and primary-school enrollment rates were subjacent to the rest of Europe.

Another factor was the lack of agrarian reform, leaving agricultural productivity low and the mass populace destitute. Impoverishment especially owed to autocratic, corrupt, and ineffective governance.

Although some industrialized countries suffered bouts of authoritarian government, repression was primarily of political opposition rather than economic. If anything, plutocratic tendencies consolidated capital into fewer hands more quickly than capitalism’s natural gyre.

In contrast, latecomer governments retarded industrialization by economic repression and confiscation. For instance, the Spanish government in the 1840s decreed tax payment in cash rather than in kind. This sparked a peasant revolt, as no markets existed for produce to be sold.