The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy

Princeton University Press
Free sample

The growth of technological and scientific knowledge in the past two centuries has been the overriding dynamic element in the economic and social history of the world. Its result is now often called the knowledge economy. But what are the historical origins of this revolution and what have been its mechanisms? In The Gifts of Athena, Joel Mokyr constructs an original framework to analyze the concept of "useful" knowledge. He argues that the growth explosion in the modern West in the past two centuries was driven not just by the appearance of new technological ideas but also by the improved access to these ideas in society at large--as made possible by social networks comprising universities, publishers, professional sciences, and kindred institutions. Through a wealth of historical evidence set in clear and lively prose, he shows that changes in the intellectual and social environment and the institutional background in which knowledge was generated and disseminated brought about the Industrial Revolution, followed by sustained economic growth and continuing technological change.

Mokyr draws a link between intellectual forces such as the European enlightenment and subsequent economic changes of the nineteenth century, and follows their development into the twentieth century. He further explores some of the key implications of the knowledge revolution. Among these is the rise and fall of the "factory system" as an organizing principle of modern economic organization. He analyzes the impact of this revolution on information technology and communications as well as on the public's state of health and the structure of households. By examining the social and political roots of resistance to new knowledge, Mokyr also links growth in knowledge to political economy and connects the economic history of technology to the New Institutional Economics. The Gifts of Athena provides crucial insights into a matter of fundamental concern to a range of disciplines including economics, economic history, political economy, the history of technology, and the history of science.

Read more

About the author

Joel Mokyr is the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Economics and History, at Northwestern University. He is the author of the widely acclaimed The Lever of Riches and editor of the Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of Economic History. He is a former editor of the Journal of Economic History and President Elect of the Economic History Association.
Read more
Loading...

Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
Read more
Published on
Nov 14, 2011
Read more
Pages
384
Read more
ISBN
9781400829439
Read more
Language
English
Read more
Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Knowledge Capital
Read more
Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
Read more
Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
Read more
Eligible for Family Library

Reading information

Smartphones and Tablets

Install the Google Play Books app for Android and iPad/iPhone. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are.

Laptops and Computers

You can read books purchased on Google Play using your computer's web browser.

eReaders and other devices

To read on e-ink devices like the Sony eReader or Barnes & Noble Nook, you'll need to download a file and transfer it to your device. Please follow the detailed Help center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders.
In a world of supercomputers, genetic engineering, and fiber optics, technological creativity is ever more the key to economic success. But why are some nations more creative than others, and why do some highly innovative societies--such as ancient China, or Britain in the industrial revolution--pass into stagnation? Beginning with a fascinating, concise history of technological progress, Mokyr sets the background for his analysis by tracing the major inventions and innovations that have transformed society since ancient Greece and Rome. What emerges from this survey is often surprising: the classical world, for instance, was largely barren of new technology, the relatively backward society of medieval Europe bristled with inventions, and the period between the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution was one of slow and unspectacular progress in technology, despite the tumultuous developments associated with the Voyages of Discovery and the Scientific Revolution. What were the causes of technological creativity? Mokyr distinguishes between the relationship of inventors and their physical environment--which determined their willingness to challenge nature--and the social environment, which determined the openness to new ideas. He discusses a long list of such factors, showing how they interact to help or hinder a nation's creativity, and then illustrates them by a number of detailed comparative studies, examining the differences between Europe and China, between classical antiquity and medieval Europe, and between Britain and the rest of Europe during the industrial revolution. He examines such aspects as the role of the state (the Chinese gave up a millennium-wide lead in shipping to the Europeans, for example, when an Emperor banned large ocean-going vessels), the impact of science, as well as religion, politics, and even nutrition. He questions the importance of such commonly-cited factors as the spill-over benefits of war, the abundance of natural resources, life expectancy, and labor costs. Today, an ever greater number of industrial economies are competing in the global market, locked in a struggle that revolves around technological ingenuity. The Lever of Riches, with its keen analysis derived from a sweeping survey of creativity throughout history, offers telling insights into the question of how Western economies can maintain, and developing nations can unlock, their creative potential.
Why are some parts of the world so rich and others so poor? Why did the Industrial Revolution--and the unprecedented economic growth that came with it--occur in eighteenth-century England, and not at some other time, or in some other place? Why didn't industrialization make the whole world rich--and why did it make large parts of the world even poorer? In A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark tackles these profound questions and suggests a new and provocative way in which culture--not exploitation, geography, or resources--explains the wealth, and the poverty, of nations.

Countering the prevailing theory that the Industrial Revolution was sparked by the sudden development of stable political, legal, and economic institutions in seventeenth-century Europe, Clark shows that such institutions existed long before industrialization. He argues instead that these institutions gradually led to deep cultural changes by encouraging people to abandon hunter-gatherer instincts-violence, impatience, and economy of effort-and adopt economic habits-hard work, rationality, and education.


The problem, Clark says, is that only societies that have long histories of settlement and security seem to develop the cultural characteristics and effective workforces that enable economic growth. For the many societies that have not enjoyed long periods of stability, industrialization has not been a blessing. Clark also dissects the notion, championed by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, that natural endowments such as geography account for differences in the wealth of nations.


A brilliant and sobering challenge to the idea that poor societies can be economically developed through outside intervention, A Farewell to Alms may change the way global economic history is understood.

Why Enlightenment culture sparked the Industrial Revolution

During the late eighteenth century, innovations in Europe triggered the Industrial Revolution and the sustained economic progress that spread across the globe. While much has been made of the details of the Industrial Revolution, what remains a mystery is why it took place at all. Why did this revolution begin in the West and not elsewhere, and why did it continue, leading to today's unprecedented prosperity? In this groundbreaking book, celebrated economic historian Joel Mokyr argues that a culture of growth specific to early modern Europe and the European Enlightenment laid the foundations for the scientific advances and pioneering inventions that would instigate explosive technological and economic development. Bringing together economics, the history of science and technology, and models of cultural evolution, Mokyr demonstrates that culture—the beliefs, values, and preferences in society that are capable of changing behavior—was a deciding factor in societal transformations.

Mokyr looks at the period 1500–1700 to show that a politically fragmented Europe fostered a competitive "market for ideas" and a willingness to investigate the secrets of nature. At the same time, a transnational community of brilliant thinkers known as the “Republic of Letters” freely circulated and distributed ideas and writings. This political fragmentation and the supportive intellectual environment explain how the Industrial Revolution happened in Europe but not China, despite similar levels of technology and intellectual activity. In Europe, heterodox and creative thinkers could find sanctuary in other countries and spread their thinking across borders. In contrast, China’s version of the Enlightenment remained controlled by the ruling elite.

Combining ideas from economics and cultural evolution, A Culture of Growth provides startling reasons for why the foundations of our modern economy were laid in the mere two centuries between Columbus and Newton.

Whether hailed as heroes or cast as threats to social order, entrepreneurs--and their innovations--have had an enormous influence on the growth and prosperity of nations. The Invention of Enterprise gathers together, for the first time, leading economic historians to explore the entrepreneur's role in society from antiquity to the present. Addressing social and institutional influences from a historical context, each chapter examines entrepreneurship during a particular period and in an important geographic location.

The book chronicles the sweeping history of enterprise in Mesopotamia and Neo-Babylon; carries the reader through the Islamic Middle East; offers insights into the entrepreneurial history of China, Japan, and Colonial India; and describes the crucial role of the entrepreneur in innovative activity in Europe and the United States, from the medieval period to today. In considering the critical contributions of entrepreneurship, the authors discuss why entrepreneurial activities are not always productive and may even sabotage prosperity. They examine the institutions and restrictions that have enabled or impeded innovation, and the incentives for the adoption and dissemination of inventions. They also describe the wide variations in global entrepreneurial activity during different historical periods and the similarities in development, as well as entrepreneurship's role in economic growth. The book is filled with past examples and events that provide lessons for promoting and successfully pursuing contemporary entrepreneurship as a means of contributing to the welfare of society.



The Invention of Enterprise lays out a definitive picture for all who seek an understanding of innovation's central place in our world.

In a world of supercomputers, genetic engineering, and fiber optics, technological creativity is ever more the key to economic success. But why are some nations more creative than others, and why do some highly innovative societies--such as ancient China, or Britain in the industrial revolution--pass into stagnation? Beginning with a fascinating, concise history of technological progress, Mokyr sets the background for his analysis by tracing the major inventions and innovations that have transformed society since ancient Greece and Rome. What emerges from this survey is often surprising: the classical world, for instance, was largely barren of new technology, the relatively backward society of medieval Europe bristled with inventions, and the period between the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution was one of slow and unspectacular progress in technology, despite the tumultuous developments associated with the Voyages of Discovery and the Scientific Revolution. What were the causes of technological creativity? Mokyr distinguishes between the relationship of inventors and their physical environment--which determined their willingness to challenge nature--and the social environment, which determined the openness to new ideas. He discusses a long list of such factors, showing how they interact to help or hinder a nation's creativity, and then illustrates them by a number of detailed comparative studies, examining the differences between Europe and China, between classical antiquity and medieval Europe, and between Britain and the rest of Europe during the industrial revolution. He examines such aspects as the role of the state (the Chinese gave up a millennium-wide lead in shipping to the Europeans, for example, when an Emperor banned large ocean-going vessels), the impact of science, as well as religion, politics, and even nutrition. He questions the importance of such commonly-cited factors as the spill-over benefits of war, the abundance of natural resources, life expectancy, and labor costs. Today, an ever greater number of industrial economies are competing in the global market, locked in a struggle that revolves around technological ingenuity. The Lever of Riches, with its keen analysis derived from a sweeping survey of creativity throughout history, offers telling insights into the question of how Western economies can maintain, and developing nations can unlock, their creative potential.
In a world of supercomputers, genetic engineering, and fiber optics, technological creativity is ever more the key to economic success. But why are some nations more creative than others, and why do some highly innovative societies--such as ancient China, or Britain in the industrial revolution--pass into stagnation? Beginning with a fascinating, concise history of technological progress, Mokyr sets the background for his analysis by tracing the major inventions and innovations that have transformed society since ancient Greece and Rome. What emerges from this survey is often surprising: the classical world, for instance, was largely barren of new technology, the relatively backward society of medieval Europe bristled with inventions, and the period between the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution was one of slow and unspectacular progress in technology, despite the tumultuous developments associated with the Voyages of Discovery and the Scientific Revolution. What were the causes of technological creativity? Mokyr distinguishes between the relationship of inventors and their physical environment--which determined their willingness to challenge nature--and the social environment, which determined the openness to new ideas. He discusses a long list of such factors, showing how they interact to help or hinder a nation's creativity, and then illustrates them by a number of detailed comparative studies, examining the differences between Europe and China, between classical antiquity and medieval Europe, and between Britain and the rest of Europe during the industrial revolution. He examines such aspects as the role of the state (the Chinese gave up a millennium-wide lead in shipping to the Europeans, for example, when an Emperor banned large ocean-going vessels), the impact of science, as well as religion, politics, and even nutrition. He questions the importance of such commonly-cited factors as the spill-over benefits of war, the abundance of natural resources, life expectancy, and labor costs. Today, an ever greater number of industrial economies are competing in the global market, locked in a struggle that revolves around technological ingenuity. The Lever of Riches, with its keen analysis derived from a sweeping survey of creativity throughout history, offers telling insights into the question of how Western economies can maintain, and developing nations can unlock, their creative potential.
Technical changes in the first half of the nineteenth century led to unprecedented economic growth and capital formation throughout Western Europe; and yet Ireland hardly participated in this process at all. While the Northern Atlantic Economy prospered, the Great Irish Famine of 1845–50 killed a million and a half people and caused hundreds of thousands to flee the country. Why the Irish economy failed to grow, and ‘why Ireland starved’ remains an unresolved riddle of economic history.

Professor Mokyr maintains that the ‘Hungry Forties’ were caused by the overall underdevelopment of the economy during the decades which preceded the famine. In Why Ireland Starved he tests various hypotheses that have been put forward to account for this backwardness. He dismisses widespread arguments that Irish poverty can be explained in terms of over-population, an evil land system or malicious exploitation by the British. Instead, he argues that the causes have to be sought in the low productivity of labor and the insufficient formation of physical capital – results of the peculiar political and social structure of Ireland, continuous conflicts between landlords and tenants, and the rigidity of Irish economic institutions.

Mokyr’s methodology is rigorous and quantitative, in the tradition of the New Economic History. It sets out to test hypotheses about the causal connections between economic and non-economic phenomena. Irish history is often heavily coloured by political convictions: of Dutch-Jewish origin, trained in Israel and working in the United States. Mokyr brings to this controversial field not only wide research experience but also impartiality and scientific objectivity.

The book is primarily aimed at numerate economic historians, historical demographers, economists specializing in agricultural economics and economic development and specialists in Irish and British nineteenth-century history. The text is, nonetheless, free of technical jargon, with the more complex material relegated to appendixes. Mokyr’s line of reasoning is transparent and has been easily accessible and useful to readers without graduate training in economic theory and econometrics since ists first publication in 1983.

©2018 GoogleSite Terms of ServicePrivacyDevelopersArtistsAbout Google
By purchasing this item, you are transacting with Google Payments and agreeing to the Google Payments Terms of Service and Privacy Notice.