- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (June 1, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465031099
- ISBN-13: 978-0465031092
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #296,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation Of The Industrial World 1st Edition
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From the Back Cover
In this elegant synthesis of economic history, two scholars argue that it is the political pluralism and the flexibility of the West's institutions, not corporate organization and mass production technology-that explain its unparalleled wealth.
About the Author
L.E. Birdzell, Jr. is an attorney and legal scholar, based in Newport, Rhode Island.
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Top customer reviews
I will allow, no encourage, everyone to read the book themselves for the details, but the basic concept is that what was different in Western Europe from other times and places was decentralized authority and decision making. Problem solving necessary for the advancement of the human condition is a cooperative affair, but cooperation can emerge both top down (via hierarchy and control) and bottoms up in a decentralized, diverse way. The West blossomed by allowing more of the latter to emerge than in other societies controlled by custom, bureaucracy, despotism, the status quo, and guilds.
The West, concentrated first in Britain and later much broader, first and foremost did less to stop innovation. Just as dramatically, it created (greatly without conscious intent) institutions which actually required or demanded innovation, experimentation, incremental improvement, efficiency and organizational adaptiveness. The book is about the details illustrating this unique situation. How it evolved. Why it evolved. Why it was so different.
But first, the content is top notch. It explores a period of history, the rise of capitalism out of the decline of fuedalism/manorialism that I'd only really known about in one-sentence soundbytes and brief fragments. The writing is precise, detailed, and thus dry, but it manages to not bog. It makes a good attempt at balance and to support its intermediate conclusions, but still retains a specific point of view. Most importantly, it has provided me already with pieces of a historical puzzle that puts the modern situation in a light I had not considered.
Now to the production. Overall, it is well put together. But somehow pages 109-114 and 115-120 have been transposed. So after finishing page 108 in mid-sentence, you have to skip ahead six pages to find 109, read six pages, jump back to where 115 comes immediately after 109, read six pages, then jump ahead again to continue the rest of the book. That's an incredibly sloppy mistake that I've never encountered before. I can't really take any stars off for it, because everything is there and it can be read, and it does not diminish from the content. But if I was one of the authors, I'd be appalled by it.
(Refers to the Basic Books paperback edition)
Marx was certainly mistaken in his claim that the fundamental social forces that led to development of free market economic thinking were purely changes in technology and the material modes of production. Max Weber tells us that the rational modern economic thinking emerged in the West can be dated to a sequence of events that took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. But still, something is missing.
Surely the legal right of women to hold a dispose of property had something to do with the freeing up of land titles from kindred obligations and thus the promotion of free exchange. Dating back to the high Middle Ages, English women at least had the independent right to hold and freely dispose of real estate and chattels. Women also had a greater participation in public events than women elsewhere in the world or in the historical experience. This added opportunity for half the population to engage in independent exchange and must have had some level of causality in the development and promotion of free exchange as an organizing principle of economic and social organization and thus the creation of material wealth in the West. Why did women gain this level of autonomy in the West? This was a social and cultural change, not a mandated legal change. These social and cultural changes were made possible, in part by Christian doctrine and in part by Catholic Church self-interest. The Church changed many of the traditional and tribal customs with regard to marriage and inheritance for its own purposes based in its view of salvation at the Individual level of each worshiper that led to a more individualistic mindset that in turn resulted in the increased ownership of land the ability to dispose of land by women as individuals. Christian doctrine mandated the universal equality of all human beings under God which made it much easier to accept women as property owners. This redounded to the innumerable advantage of the West in the creation of wealth as the population of economic actors doubled. However, the Church was not advocating female empowerment. It was only looking for a way of wresting control over valuable land and resources from powerful noble families.
Thus, capitalism was not the cause, as Marx would have it, but the result of deeper social changes concerning relationships and customs. Ultimately, I believe Weber was more correct with his insight into the impact of religion on politics, economics and the creation of wealth and thus separation of the West from all the rest but with this twist, Christianity inadvertently free up the female population to participate in economic activity.