How Europe became so rich

BOOK REVIEW

A Culture of Growth: Origins of the Modern Economy, Author: Joel Mokyr.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Author: Edward Gibbon.

In a time of great powers and empires, just one region of the world experienced extraordinary economic growth. How?
By Joel Mokyr – How and why did the modern world and its unprecedented prosperity begin?

One of the oldest and most persuasive explanations is the long political fragmentation of Europe. For centuries, no ruler had ever been able to unite Europe the way the Mongols and the Mings had united China.

It should be emphasized that Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture.

It was rather what is known as a classical emergent property, a complex and unintended outcome of simpler interactions on the whole. The modern European economic miracle was the result of contingent institutional outcomes. It was neither designed nor planned. But it happened, and once it began, it generated a self-reinforcing dynamic of economic progress that made knowledge-driven growth both possible and sustainable.

How did this work? In brief, Europe’s political fragmentation spurred productive competition. It meant that European rulers found themselves competing for the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans. The economic historian Eric L Jones called this ‘the States system’.

The costs of European political division into multiple competing states were substantial: they included almost incessant warfare, protectionism, and other coordination failures. Many scholars now believe, however, that in the long run the benefits of competing states might have been larger than the costs. In particular, the existence of multiple competing states encouraged scientific and technological innovation. more>

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