Saturday, February 6, 2010

Joel Mokyr's "The Enlightened Economy"

Joel Mokyr is Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History, Northwestern University, and Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics, Tel Aviv University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850, and reported the following:
The page contains, amazingly enough, two statements that summarize much of what the book is about.
The technological revolution that created the modern industrial age cannot be fully understood without its intellectual underpinnings. All the same, inventions and improvements by informed and ingenious minds opened doors but could not force a society to walk through them.
The first statement is the main reason why I wrote the book. Many economists write about economic growth as if what people knew and believed mattered but little. People just want to maximize their income and will learn whatever there is to learn. I argue in 550 pages that this is too simplified a view of the world: some societies have the intellectual and cultural proclivity to do what needs to be done to bring about economic progress. Britain in the eighteenth century had what it took, and hence its economic leadership that lasted for a century and took much of the world into a different economic life, in which more and more people live lives of economic and material comforts that in 1700 only Kings and Popes (if them) could dream about.

A second statement is this:
[e]conomies do not grow just because they want to consume more. Indeed, the desire for more income is shared by all economies; the ability to satisfy it is what makes all the difference.
This, too is central to the argument. Necessity is NOT the mother of invention, which is a statement that manages to be simultaneously a cliché and false. The parents of invention are, above all, the belief in the possibility and desirability of technological progress and the useful knowledge (science, engineering, chemistry, whatever necessary) that was needed to bring it about. The book deals with the question where that knowledge came from, and what incentives and institutions were necessary to produce it.
Learn more about The Enlightened Economy at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue