What Did Not Cause Modern Economic Growth

Deirdre McClosky has a long, long list of all the Not Causes of the “hockey stick,” the upturn in wealth, the advent of economic growth, the exit from Malthusian subsistence, the Industrial Revolution, in modern times.

Not trade (“the Rest had been vigorously trading in the Indian Ocean long before the Europeans got there”); not coal (“it was transportable and substitutable”); not exploitation (“The profits from the [slave] trade, which were small and were mainly earned by African slave-catchers, did not finance the Industrial Revolution.”) Not Gregory Clark’s genetic theory that the rich out-bred the poor (“non-English people succeeded, as for instance the Chinese now are succeeding. And such people have always done fine in a bourgeois country.”) Not institutions (“England was a land of property rights from the beginning. So “institutional change” does not explain the Industrial Revolution. The timing is wrong.”) Not the Scientific Revolution (“Britain did not lead in science — yet clearly did in technology.”)

More Not Causes involving conditions before 1500 across Eurasia:

Literary, artistic, and scientific flowering; Respect for learning; universities; Education of elite; Printing and paper; Compass; Clocks [but especially in Europe]; Monotheism [especially in Europe including Orthodoxy, and in Muslim world]; Peace and bourgeois prosperity [less in Europe]; Urbanization [less so in northern Europe]; (-? or +?) High death rates in cities; Competent bureaucracy [especially in China]; High seed/yield ratios [not in Europe, which did not have much rice, or any maize]; Investment capability [less so in Europe: see yield/seed ratio]; Wide long-distance trade [less so in Europe]; Slavery and its trade [especially in Middle East]; Wide and deep internal trade and markets; Good internal transportation, especially unimproved rivers, canals, and coastal ships; Temperate climate; (-) Onset of Little Ice Age (1300-1850) after climatic maximum before 1300; (-) Malaria; (-? or +?) The Plague; Desire for profit; Rule of law; Property rights; Money [in China even paper money]; Reasonably sophisticated financial institutions; High incomes in a few favored places; Coal widely used [China, India, Europe]

Even More Not Causes involving conditions after 1500 in Europe:

Protestant ethic; Thrift; Rise of rationality; Rise of greed; Spanish and Portuguese imperialism; The Price Revolution; Dutch, British, French trade (except as contributing to bourgeois dignity); Dutch, British, French imperialism; Slave trade; Rises in the rate of saving; Original accumulation of capital; Surplus value; reinvestment; Routine investment; Exploitation of the working class; Science (until around 1900); (-) Sustained high prestige of aristocracy and gentry; Routine transportation improvement (canals, harbors); English genetics; English social inheritance; Stuart missteps and taxation; The Glorious Revolution; institutional change.

What did cause it? … that’s for another post.


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