(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income–mere 100% betterments in the human condition–had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan’s income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.
. . .
(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England’s impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?
The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
To use another big concept, what came–slowly, imperfectly–was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.”
For the full commentary, see:
DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. “How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)
McCloskey’s commentary is based on her “bourgeois” trilogy, the final volume of which is:
McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.