The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress

Front Cover
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 studies taken from the history of Europe and China. He examines such aspects as the role of the state (the Chinese gave up a millenium-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 of natural resources, life expectancy, and labor costs. And he presents startlingly novel explanations of why China lost its dramatic lead in technology to Europe, why medieval Europe was technologically more creative than Classical Antiquity, and why Britain left the rest of the world behind during the Industrial Revolution only to lose its leadership a century later.
Today, an ever greater number of industrial economies are competing in the global market, locked in a struggle that revolves around technological ingenuity. Lever of Riches, with its keen analysis derived from a sweeping survey of creativity throughout history, offers telling insight into the question of how Western economies can maintain, and developing nations can unlock, their creative potential.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - cyclops1771 - LibraryThing

Excellent read on the interrelation between technology and wealth. Technologies as the drivers of wealth is in this day and age is viewed as an anomaly, and the pervasive thinking is that wealth ... Read full review

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This is a wonderful book that is pleasing both to the interested layperson and the more serious economist.


Economic Growth and Technological Progress
Classical Antiquity
The Middle Ages
The Renaissance and Beyond Technology 15001750
The Years of Miracles The Industrial Revolution 17501830
The Later Nineteenth Century 18301914
Understanding Technological Progress
Classical and Medieval Technology
China and Europe
The Industrial Revolution Britain and Europe
Dynamics and Technological Progress
Evolution and the Dynamics of Technological Change

Analysis and Comparisons

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About the author (1990)

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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