Sunday, May 01, 2011

Was 1800 (approximately) A Pivotal Year In Human History? Robert Fogel, Francis Fukuyama, And Deirdre McCloskey All Seem To Think So

Robert Fogel is a Nobel Prize Winning Economist. Here is something he said recently:

"Technology rescued humankind from centuries of physical maladies and malnutrition, Mr. Fogel argues. Before the 19th century (1800), most people were caught in an endless cycle of subsistence farming."

See Technology Advances; Humans Supersize.

Francis Fukuyama, author of the famous book The End of History and the Last Man, has a new book out. Here is an excerpt from a review of that book:

"But it is true that Mr. Fukuyama tracks a quest for "order" that often falls short of its goal until a decisive threshold is reached around 1800.

By then the Industrial Revolution—even at its earliest stages—had unleashed the forces of production in ways hitherto unimaginable, allowing for abundance rather than scarcity, not least in the production of food. But the threshold proved to be more than a matter of escaping "the Malthusian trap" of hunger and overpopulation. In the years surrounding the French Revolution, Mr. Fukuyama believes, politics began to shape itself—at last—into an orderly and sustainable form.

Obviously, political order had been achieved before then, but in a fitful and incomplete way. In Mr. Fukuyama's view, a durable political order can arise, and societies can fully thrive, only when a state is formed, when the state itself operates according to a rule of law, and when the state becomes accountable—that is, when it must answer to its citizens. Until the threshold point around 1800, he says, all three properties rarely existed together."

See From Dynasty to Democracy: Nations did not find stability, or sustained prosperity, until they became accountable to their citizens.

Deirdre McCloskey is a highly respected economic historian whose latest book is Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. Here are some quotes from her:

"Modern economic growth—that stunning increase from $3 a day in 1800 worldwide to now upwards of $130 a day in the richest countries, and anyway $30 as a worldwide average—can’t be accounted for in the usual and materialist ways. It wasn’t trade, investment, exploitation, imperialism, education, legal changes, genes, science. It was innovation, such as cheap steel and the modern university, supported by an entirely new attitude towards the middle class, emerging from Holland around 1600. (It has parallels in classical music and mathematics and politics, in all of which the Europeans burst out, 1600-1800.)

Economics of the usual sort, whether Samuelsonian or Marxist, can’t get at why Europeans and then the rest of us started around 1800 to become insanely innovative. A new dignity for innovation and its market applications can: that’s a sociological change, supporting sensible economic policies.

What you can learn from the history is that stasis reigned until we discovered dignity and liberty for ordinary people, and in particular for the disturbing, irritating class of entrepreneurs."

See Don’t be snobbish towards merchants & entrepreneurs, and you’ll develop

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