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Is modern growth a materialist or an ideological achievement?

Continuing the debate about the industrial revolution with
Deirdre McCloskey

her reply to me

…We agree at least that innovation
is the key. That’s a very, very important agreement. Joel Mokyr,
Jack Goldstone, and our own Greg Clark join Matt Ridley, Robert
Allen, and me in affirming it. It sets us Innovators off from most
economists and historians, who are Accumulators. We say that the
modern world got rich by (at a minimum) 1500% percent compared with
1800 not, as the sadly mistaken Accumulators say,
because of capital accumulation, or exploitation of the third
world, or the expansion of foreign trade. The world got rich by
inventing cheap steel, electric lights, marine insurance,
reinforced concrete, coffee shops, saw mills, newspapers, automatic
looms, cheap paper, modern universities, the transistor, cheap
porcelain, corporations, rolling mills, liberation for women,

And here’s my reply to her reply.

…Deirdre is delightfully right
about many things, including the fact that the Accumulators are
wrong. I should have taken more time to acknowledge what a struggle
still lies ahead to persuade most of the academic world, let alone
the rest of humanity, that the great economic expansion of the past
200 years did not come by piling up “resources” that were stolen
from others, or from Gaia. The non-zero-sum message has not yet got
through. So yes, compared with that, our little differences are
trivial. Her use of innovation as a synonym for growth is a

And here is Greg Clark’s latest contribution:

…Deirdre McCloskey points to the
association in eighteenth century England between two innovations:
the rise of bourgeois virtue, and the Industrial Revolution. But
modern experience in China suggests this is an accidental
conjunction. Economic growth may demand many social qualities, but
virtue does not seem to be one of them.

And Deirdre’s reply:

…But we all agree-Ridley, Clark,
Mokyr, and I-that the cat of liberty is hard or impossible to put
back in the hierarchical bag once the accidental liberals around
the North Sea let it out, and especially once it resulted in the
2000% percent or more increase in human scope. For which praise


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  Uncategorized