How The West Grew Rich
How did the West - Europe, Canada, and the United States- escape from immemorial poverty
In How the West grew rich, two American academics explain the reasons for the Western economic and technological take-off from the 15th century onwards. And it has nothing to do with "luck" or colonization.
The authors begin by reminding us that for millennia, poverty among the masses was the norm: "These eras of misery have been mythologized and may even be remembered as golden ages of pastoral simplicity", when in reality, the masses lived in the "silence of poverty".
The authors then examine various widespread but false explanations for the West's economic take-off:
they show that it was not colonization that enriched the West, as there is no "correlation between the magnitude and timing of the Western countries economic growth and the magnitude and timing of their participation in imperialism". Rather, colonialism/imperialism is a consequence of economic power, not a cause.
luck then? But how can we explain the fact that the last 4 major economic revolutions took place in the West (mercantile revolution in the 15th century, 1st, 2nd and 3rd industrial revolutions)? "When lightning has struck four times in on place, it seems appropriate to inquire what it is about the topography of the place that attracts it so persistently."
So how did Western prosperity come about?
The answer: freedom and innovation. From the 15th century onwards, an economic sphere (merchants, cities) increasingly autonomous from political and religious power emerged.
This freedom encouraged innovation in many fields (trade, science, economic law, etc.), and these innovations were at the root of the economic boom. Innovation needs freedom and legal certainty: it therefore emerged in pluralistic societies guaranteeing property rights.
To conclude, the book is excellent at explaining the economic mechanisms of the Western take-off, but does little to address the non-economic reasons (culture, religion...). We'll come back to this point in future threads and articles with more recent authors.