industrial revolution

All posts tagged industrial revolution

Book Review: The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, by Kenneth Pomeranz
This book does a good job of criticizing many Anglo-centric explanations of why Europeans industrialized first by providing detailed evidence that the area near the Yangzi river delta was mostly as advanced as England when England started the industrial revolution.
It does a less convincing job of arguing that coal and new world land were the main reasons for England’s success. I’m tempted to believe that American sugar provided desperately needed calories to break out of a Malthusian trap, but the evidence doesn’t show that became significant until the industrial revolution had already started.
Conveniently located coal undoubtedly gave England a boost, but not a big enough boost that there is a practical way to decide it was more important than the numerous cultural differences which might have given England the edge it needed.
The book makes a serious effort to dismiss those cultural explanations, but is not thorough enough. In particular, I’m disappointed with the cryptic way that it dismisses the relevance of the ideas in Helmut Schoeck’s book Envy.
The style is often deadening, with lengthy descriptions of details whose relevance is unobvious.

Book Review: The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100 by Robert Fogel

This book presents good arguments that hunger was a major cause of health problems everywhere a century ago, and that the effects last long enough that even the richest countries are still suffering from problems caused by hunger. His arguments imply that experts persistently underestimate improvements in life expectancy, and even with little improvement in medical technology life expectancy will improve a good deal because people born today have much better nutrition than today’s elderly had as children.

This goes a long way toward explaining the Flynn effect (even though the book doesn’t mention Flynn or IQ). It correctly implies the biggest intelligence increase should be seen at the low end of the IQ range, unlike a number of other interesting theories I’ve come across.

Another peculiar fact that the book helps to explain is the high frequency with which the tallest presidential candidate wins. Fogel’s arguments that height has been one of the best indicators of health/wealth suggest that this is not an arbitrary criterion (although it is probably a selfish I-want-to-ally-with-a-winner strategy that may be obsolete).

The book is mostly non-idealogical, but occasionally has some good political arguments (page 42):

government transfers were incapable of solving the problems of beggary
and homelessness during the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries,
because the root cause of the problems was chronic malnutrition. … At
the end of the eighteenth century British agriculture, even when supplemented
by imports, was simply not productive enough to provide more than 80 percent
of the potential labor force with enough calories to sustain regular manual

(page 106):

Readers may be surprised that I have not emphasized the extension of health insurance policies to the 15 percent of the population not currently insured. The flap over insurance has more to do with taxation than with health services. … Most proposals for extending health insurance involve taxing their wages for services they already receive.

See also Mike Linksvayer’s comments.