Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Lever of Riches

Why are some countries richer than others? One major reason is the derivation and use of technology. In The Lever of Riches, Joel Mokyr digs into this topic.

The book can be pretty neatly divided into three parts. The first part discusses the major technological gains of societies leading up to today. Most of these gains have taken place in the last couple of hundred years, but there were also technology improvements both from the East and the West in the centuries and millenia leading up to the Industrial Revolution (e.g. Arabic numerals, double-entry accounting etc). At times, this part had a laundry list feel to it (btw, do you people list your laundry? I have never done it but are there benefits I've been missing this whole time??). There were a number of inventions discussed; so many that I've likely forgotten a bunch. But at the same time they were discussed so quickly that I didn't quite understand how they all worked.

The next part of the book discusses some potential reasons for why certain societies developed the wherewithal to develop technologies while others didn't or used to and regressed. Some fallacies are exposed.

Finally, the author compares some societies against each other, and applies some of the reasoning in the previous part to discuss why one society excelled while another did not.

If this topic interests you, I think you would be much better of reading Why Nations Fail. It looks at more societies than does this book, without the technology laundry list the importance of which you can stipulate to, and does so through the lens of a unified theory. Whether the theory has holes in it or not, it provides a framework for thinking through these issues that I think makes it easier to remember the facts and think through the relevant issues, and it's a far more entertaining read.

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