An orthodox economist might readily suppose that, once the flame of the industrial revolution (IR) had been ignited in the Manchester cotton mills in 1780, it would have immediately leaped from one country to another all over the world — or at least into many dozens of them. It didn’t work out like that. Yes, the IR leaped out of Manchester all right, but only into a handful of other nearby countries — France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Germany — together with a distant US.
Another even more distant country, Japan, also took to the IR at around 1880 and did so voraciously, not so much by word of mouth or great familiarity wth our culture but by slavishly copying everything we were making — and exporting so profitably — and the methods we used to do so. China also started out about then but only in a desultory way and didn’t really get down to dealing with it seriously until the 1980s.
What makes this greatly uneven take-up even more astonishing today is that in terms of the quality of goods traded between countries there is a steep decline in value between the advanced countries mentioned above and the 180 remaining nations. In terms of quality and sophistication of goods, the pattern of world trading is as similar today as it was 200 years ago. In other words, there is a pecking order in the trading of goods as in so many other human situations. Just like social relationships, countries only really want to trade with those slightly above or equal to them in standard of living and thus the quality of goods their inhabitants enjoy.
Furthermore, as we proceed in modern times from a predominantly manufacturing world economy into one of sophisticated personal services requiring altogether higher levels of scientific research and development, the pecking order pattern is being retained. The handful of advanced countries — now accompanied by Japan and (almost) China — will still dominate the higher value bands of trade. Most of the countries of the world, as now, will be left trailing behind for a very long time to come.