Why did the West become richer than the East? Why is there large income disparity in the world? These might be the ultimate questions that economists have to answer. It is my decade long question, too. We can find many potential answers in economics literature: institution, capital investment, technological progress, even gene and so on.
Whichever explanations, I see, are all about how superior the West was then the East. Were they "genetically" smarter than the rest of the world? Was Adolph Hitler right? (If it is offensive, I apologize. But I want to be provocative.) Do you agree with that? I cannot. When I meet local farmers in poor regions, I am surprised by their insight on everything. Their skills and production technology improves not stagnates, although the rate is very slow. They are not that stupid or retard. History shows that China or Japan were not that behind in the 17th and 18th centuries. They had similar technologies and very capitalist institutions to the west. Then, why some countries could rise, while the others fell.
Then, I suggest to focus on environmental determinism. In particular, environmental change, such as deforestation or extinction of big animal, could be explanatory variable in the disparity of very long run growth. I would like to take a look at the transition of energy source. How did fossil fuel shape current economic status? How will human economies change after fossil fuel era?