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Published March 30, 2016 | Accepted Version
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The politics and economics of Europe's comparative advantage in violence


By the eighteenth century, Europeans dominated the military technology of gunpowder weapons. Their dominance was surprising, because the technology had originated in China and had been used with expertise in East and South Asia and the Ottoman Empire. Historians have often invoked competition to account for the Europeans' military prowess, but competition cannot explain why they forged ahead in developing this technology. The answer lies in the peculiar form that military competition took in western Europe: it was a tournament that induced European rulers to invest heavily in improving the technology of gunpowder weapons. Political incentives and military conditions kept such a tournament from developing in China, Japan, India, and the Ottoman Empire, and as a result rulers had much less reason to push the gunpowder technology.

Additional Information

GPIH Working Paper No. 13, Version: December 2008. Research for this paper was supported by NSF Grant 0433358 as part of the Global Prices and Incomes Project.

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