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The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress

4.0 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195074772
ISBN-10: 0195074777
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Editorial Reviews


"An excellent volume outlining in great detail, yet wide ranging in scope, the role of technological change in history. Will make a great supplemental text for our future World Economic History course that I'll be teaching."--Michael Haupert, Univ. of Wisconsin-LaCrosse

"Mokyr has demonstrated, yet again, that he is one the best economic historians around. His book is a treasure trove of facts and insights about technological progress often overlooked in other accounts. Further, his argument that economics might do well to adopt the methodology of evolutionary biology instead of the standard application of Newtonian physics is cogent and convincing."--Howard Bodenhorn, St. Lawrence Univ.

"An informative and well-written study of humankind's progress."--J.M. Skaggs,Wichita State Univ.

"The history and the examples Mokyr uses are a delight to read."--Business Week

"Joel Mokyr is a first-rate scholar who has read a wide body of literature. The book is very well written, lively and engaging. It is closely reasoned and well executed"--Nathan Rosenberg, Stanford University

"Joel Mokyr likes telling his story and he tells it well; his book makes for good reading and rereading, and this in itself sets him apart from many of his fellow economic historians."--The New York Times Book Review

"[Mokyr's] examples are so comprehensive, his knowledge so detailed, and his conclusions so broad and firmly drawn that the reader comes away full of insight."--The Christian Science Monitor

"[A] rich, subtly flavored buffet of theories, ideas, insights and examples."--Wall Street Journal

"Lucid and accessible."--Reason

"Raise[s] some very insightful questions."--Informationweek

About the Author

Joel Mokyr is Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, and is the author of Why Ireland Starved, The Economics of the Industrial Revolution, and other books in economic history.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 9, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195074777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195074772
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
According to Joel Mokyr, economic growth is the result of four distinct processes: Investment (increases in the capital stock), Commercial Expansion, Scale or Size Effects, and Increase in the Stock of Human Knowledge (which includes technological progress proper as well as changes in institutions). Throughout his brilliant book, he correlates technological creativity with economic progress throughout classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and then into the later 19th century.
In Chapter 12 ("Epilogue"), he further develops what is assuredly an invaluable frame-of-reference within which to understand our own time. Why does technological creativity occur? There are two components in the invention-innovation sequence: "technical problems involve a struggle between mind and matter, that is, they involve control of the physical environment." The other component is social: "For a new technique to be implemented, the innovator has to react with a human environment comprised of competitors, customers, suppliers, the authorities, neighbors, possibly the priest."
This brief commentary has only inadequately suggested the scope and depth of Mokyr's rigorous inquiry into technological creativity and its contributions to economic progress. In weeks and months to come, there will be new "levers" which help to create new "riches." The historical context within which Joel Mokyr places these opportunities is a contribution of incalculable value.
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Format: Paperback
The fall of the Berlin Wall did more than free Eastern Europe; it also freed historians from the somewhat chilling influence of Marxism and post-modernism. By the late 1990s, a new flowering of grand economic history had brought us David Landes's "the Wealth and Poverty of Nations" and Jared Diamond's sublime "Guns, Germs and Steel". But before them came 1990's "The Lever Of Riches", with Joel Mokyr setting out in wonderful detail the notorious economic mystery story called technological progress.
Mokyr starts with the technologies of Greek and Roman antiquity, then moves on to the neglected breakthroughs of Western Europe's Dark Ages (the horseshoe, the horse collar, the waterwheel) and the Islamic Golden Age. But his history naturally centres on the Western European technological flowering that began around 1400.
He caps this narrative with an ambitious discussion of an issue he regards as central to the mystery of technological development: the relative decline of China, the pre-eminent technological power of the centuries up to 1400.
Mokyr, writing before the upsurge of interest in complex adaptive systems, ends the book comparing technological progress with biological evolution. The attempt is only partially successful, but you feel he's opening a new chapter of debate. "A society that has ceased to concern itself with the progress of the past will soon lose belief in its capacity to progress in the future," he concludes. And he's right.
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Format: Paperback
This very interesting but relatively brief book is devoted to the role of technological innovation in economic history. In a series of well written and very well referenced chapters, Mokyr discusses the role of technological innovation as a motor of economic growth and social transformation. Topics covered include a general discussion of technological innovation and growth, narrative chapters on technological innovation in the Classical world, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Europe, and the Modern world up to about 1850, discussions of why China and Classical civilization failed to develop an industrial civilization, and a discussion of the analogy between technological innovation and organic evolution. This is a work of synthesis; Mokyr presents little novel information and draws heavily on an impressive body of existing scholarship. Mokyr presents some interesting and important conclusions. Technological innovation is not driven primarily by ordinary market forces. The Industrial Revolution was the culmination in many centuries of technological innovation dating back to the Middle Ages. The failure of China to develop an Industrial Revolution remains a persistent puzzle. By about 1400, Chinese civilization was the world leader in many key technologies but then slides back and is eventually overtaken and then explosively surpassed by Europe. An important point made by Mokyr is that no nation or culture was a perpetual locus of technological innovation. In Europe, innovations were most common in Italy during the Renaissance, followed by major sites in the Low Countries and Germany, followed by the British explosion. Europe, with its divided polities, may have been more conducive to the development of industrial technology.Read more ›
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This is an important book about the historical process that not so long ago was unashamedly called "progress." Mokyr is professor of economics at Northwestern and author of The Economics of the Industrial Revolution. The present work undertakes a systematic cross-cultural, longitudinal study of the causes and conditions of economic growth. A central contention is that contemporary microeconomics lacks the conceptual equipment to elucidate the increment to economic growth supplied by technological change. This is a startling claim: can a science founded in industrialising Scotland to explain the causes of the wealth of nations fail to explicate what everyone knows is the mainspring of economic growth? Mokyr aligns with economists who believe that this is so. They call their heterodoxy "Schumpeterian economics." In the Theory of Economic Development (1912), Joseph Schumpeter emphasized that innovation is the fundamental impulse of capitalist production. Innovation is all-sided. Production, product, resource procurement, efficiency, and marketing are all drawn into the kinetic performance. The key to this dynamism was the relentless, aggressive drive of entrepreneurs. His contemporary heirs replace the entrepreneur by the inventor as the chief wealth-producing agent. While this assessment of the critical role of technology may seem obvious to the layman, it's scandalous in microeconomics.

Readers are alerted to heterodoxy on the first page when Mokyr signals that his findings are at odds with "one of the most pervasive half-truths that economists teach their students, . . . that there is no such thing as a free lunch." We are apprised that it is the specific achievement of technology to deliver banquets for millions.
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