Two outstanding political economists—Greg Clark at UC Davis and Jim Robinson at Harvard—debate the origins of the British Industrial Revolution and the parallels to modern day Chinese growth in the Wall Street Journal.
I find both accounts persuasive and plausible. Such is the nature of most grand theories of history.
Here is my concern with all such accounts. Out of tens of thousands of years of economic history, we are searching for a deterministic explanation of why one country took off 250 years before or after another. Is there not any role for idiosyncrasy here? Another way of framing the same point: what is the standard error on any one deterministic explanation? This is an impossible question to answer, but my hunch is: probably more than 250 years.