The long-term versus short-term problem prompts him to take an unusually far-ranging approach to considering the rise of the west. He goes all the way back to the earliest pre-history in order to ask whether there have been fundamental differences between East and West. After arguing that there are no such differences among human populations, he then casts dominance in terms of development. This is where the book makes one of its most interesting contributions because he comes up with an original way to define development operationally, as well as conceptually. He defines social development as per capita energy consumption, organization (indicated by urbanization, or largest city size), war-making capacity, and information technology. These are sufficiently related to be parts of the single concept of development, but also sufficiently distinct to be separate dimensions.
While the West enjoyed an early long-term advantage, this was not absolute. When the Roman Empire reached its ceiling and dissolved (here the social development measure is especially useful in demonstrating that there really was a decline and fall), the West began to lag and the East, defined as Chinese civilization began to catch up and eventually moved ahead. The salvation of the West came with its shift to the politically fragmented states of the Atlantic fringe. Their competition with each other and their access to an ocean that could give passage to America gave rise to the expanding market economy that gave rise to the modern dominance of the West.
The argument that social development tends to shift to fringe societies that become new centers might suggest that China, having been absorbed into the global economic and political system created by the West, is likely to move into a position of leadership. On this crucial point, though, Morris hedges his bets, citing both those who claim that a single new entity of “Chimerica” will emerge and those who argue for a Sinocentric future. He also speculates that the old categories of “East” and “West” will become meaningless. The exponential increase of social development, especially in information technology, may create a Singularity, in which human beings merge with machines, resulting in an entirely new way of living that makes old geographic and political distinctions irrelevant. Or, the same exponential increase could produce a worldwide environmental catastrophe. In reading these alternatives, I was not sure which possible future I thought was worse.