picture, one must consider each period separately.
Coastline Shape Hypothesis: Cosandey explains why western Europe benefitted from
prosperity for such a long time? The main cause is the shape of its coastline. The western part of
the European continent is the only densely populated area on the Earth boasting many
peninsulas, gulfs, straits, inland seas, while still being, for the most part, an interconnected land.
Such an articulated coastline enhances trade, because the sea accessibility makes maritime
transportation easier. The sea route is much better than river or land transportation. Before
modern times, it was safer, quicker, freer and tremendously cheaper. Moreover, an articulated
coastline defines naturally limited core areas within which polities can live without much
disturbance – Britain, Ireland, Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Italy are regions well delimited
by the sea. The long-term stable political division stems from that advantage, as the sea is the
best possible boundary for a state. In mathematical terms, the quality of a coastline is measured
by Mandelbrot’s fractal dimension of the coastline. The higher the dimension, the better is the
shore articulation. Cosandey made some measurements on maps and obtained that Europe has a
fractal dimension of 1.46, much higher than China (1.26), India (1.14) and the Middle East
(1.13), which is significant because this figure can only take values between 1 and 2.
Landes says, "If we learn anything from the history of economic development it is that culture
makes all the difference. . . what counts is work, thrift, honesty, patience, tenacity". Landes
explains that culture might include, in addition, such attitudes as willingness to challenge the
natural environment, which previously was the realm of the gods; rebel against ancient traditions
of how to make things; emulate the customs and techniques of otherwise despised foreigners;
and adopt a rational and mechanistic attitude toward the manipulation of natural forces we call
"production." These features determine technological creativity, and surely they are part of
"culture" no matter how defined. He further explains the tendencies in medieval religion in
which nature is subordinate to man and remarks that, while the old legends remained to warn
against cosmic insolence (in East), "the doers were not paying attention (in West)".
Civilisations whose agriculture was dependent upon large-scale waterworks for irrigation and
flood control were called "hydraulic civilisations" by the German-American historian Karl A.
Wittfogel in his book, Oriental Despotism (1957).
Wittfogel believed that such "hydraulic civilisations" – although neither all in the Orient nor
characteristic of all Oriental societies – were quite different from those of the West. He believed
that wherever irrigation required substantial and centralised control, government representatives
monopolised political power and dominated the economy, resulting in an absolutist managerial
state. In addition, there was a close identification of these officials with the dominant religion
and an atrophy of other centres of power. The bureaucratic network directed the forced labour for
irrigation projects. Among these hydraulic civilisations, Wittfogel listed ancient Egypt,
Mesopotamia, India, China and pre-Columbian Mexico and Peru. Wittfogel identified the
centralised and bureaucratic empire as the one blocking element for eastern science, technology
and economic development.