The final section of Greg’s book has many fascinating bits, but I would rather conclude by summing up why the book is important.
The Industrial Revolution, or whatever it was that happened, is the
big question in Western history. Yet most economists do not work on it
and I believe that most have never read a book on it or taken a course
on it. Greg’s work puts this historical development back on center
stage where it belongs. Furthermore he helps reconceptualize what the
Industrial Revolution really was and wasn’t; without that step further
progress is not possible.
But that’s not all. When it comes to what happened, Greg brings two
new interrelated but distinct hypotheses to the table, namely labor
quality and downward mobility. That’s two new hypotheses, and
he makes a good case for each of them. That achievement holds up even if you are unconvinced by his
dismissal of institutions, or by his embrace of the Malthusian model.
As I read Greg, he wants to replace extant explanations with his story. In my creative "rereading" of Greg, I want to add
his two factors to extant explanations. Greg wants an explanation with
a Malthusian or a Ricardian rigor and logic. I believe our
explanations will be more like those of history than of economics.
That means lots of variables, lots of messiness in the causal chains,
unclear predictive power, and the accretion of knowledge bringing less
rather than more simplicity.
In short, Greg is more of an economist than I am.
Most of all, I’d like to thank Greg for his participation in this BookForum. Here are links to previous MR posts on his book.
In sum, what did you all think?