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The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress
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"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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Mokyr is excellent in that he has at his fingertips all of the vast research of economic historians and presents it in an absolutely fascinating way. He shows us how most of the supposed breakthroughs were really the result of clock makers, mining engineers, etc. without specialized science training, intuiting a solution to a problem and then having this breakthrough perfected... by sometimes hundreds of micro-advances by more practical minded people. He persuasively describes why this accelerating technological revolution occurred in Western Europe.
It is clearly seen from The Lever of Riches that Mokyr follows a scientific methodology with which he tests hypothesises of different historians who tried to solve the technological progress mystery, and he refutes most of these hypothesis by using sound justifications. From chemistry to agriculture, metallurgy to shipping, by narrating the different inventions of the historical periods from classical antiquity to year 1914, Mokyr tries to address the causes of technological progress.
I was quite satisfied by the explanations made by Mokyr, especially the attitudes of societies, the techniques used before and after 1850, the policy on patent system, the dispute between guilds and firms, comparison of China and Europe, the evolution of macro and micro inventions which those all together effects the technical progress.
There is huge difference between Mokyr, Joseph Needham and Lynn White on the technique they used and the information they provided. In his Science in Traditional China, Joseph Needham mainly focuses on the technological progress and social changes in China which took place for nearly 1500 years. It is not possible to understand from Needham's text why China could not develop a Western-style technological progress model, which Mokyr shows by describing the attitudes of guilds, the emergence patent system, the perception of societies' on value, the techniques (learning by doing, learning by using) used by the European's, the interaction among the countries and many more. The linear reasoning approach applied by the Lynn White is quite different than that of Mokyr's scientific approach. White's solutions to the technological progress phenomenon are basically an incremental technological change in tools and their effect on political and social system. White claims that the usage of stirrup, plough and reinforced armour led to a change in the political system. Despite it has valuable explanations, contrary to Mokyr, White's text does not give us any information on the guilds, the techniques employed for utilization of inventions, or the developments and their interactions in mining, shipping, and the change of the centre of gravity of technological progress.
In the search to answer why Europe led other continents and why England led Europe until 1850, Mokyr examines different sectors (chemistry, mining, metallurgy, etc) one by one and shows how a technical change in one sector affects other sectors. It is obvious from his text that by switching among the sectors and time periods, Mokyr has both vertical and horizontal depth of knowledge on technological change and its agents.
In order to understand the Industrial Revolution, the mutual progress made by the humanity shall be inspected, and Mokyr does this. Inventions made in China, medieval Islam and Europe are explained with their effects on society and productivity. But since the Industrial Revolution emerged in England, the text narrated by Mokyr mainly deals with the developments occurred in England and Europe.
I think that there is no one-single root cause of the technological progress, but dozens of macro and micro causes that forms the shape, speed, and path of the progress. From The Lever of Riches, we see that, indeed, the technological progress phenomenon is not an easy one which can be explained by a single theory.
It was enlightening for me to read how England led others by performing learning-by-doing and learning-by-using technique, a technique which eventually led England behind of Germany and United States due to England's resistance of changing her techniques with the new scientific methods which were mainly generated by the universities.
Despite he has questions whether the progress or stagnation is the normal state of a society, I could not see the reason why Mokyr did not focused on the fact that the progress cannot be achieved without stagnation due to the need of consuming the products of the progress.
One comment to the book may be that Mokyr seems to be inclined to see the negative sides of the craft guilds, and why he did not mentioned their contributions to the cumulative body of knowledge, which is explained in detail in Civilization and Capitalism, of Braudel.
I am totally glad about having read this book, and I believe those who seek the answers for or interested in the technological progress phenomenon will find The Lever of Riches an indispensable source of reference.