Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on March 24, 2014

in Civil Society, Growth, Innovation

… is from page 133 of the 1979 Liberty Fund edition of Carroll Quigley’s 1961 volume, The Evolution of Civilizations:

“Incentive to invent” is sometimes difficult for students to grasp because they assume that all societies are equally inventive, or that “necessity is the mother of invention,” or that invention is somehow related to innate, hereditary biological talent (so that there are “inventive races” and “non-inventive races”).  None of these things is true.  Some societies, like Mesopotamian civilization or our own Western civilization, are very inventive.  Others, like many primitive tribes, or civilizations like the Egyptian, are very uninventive.  Nor does “necessity” have much to do with inventiveness.  If it did, those peoples who are pressed down upon the subsistence level, or even below it, in their standards of living, like some of the Indian tribes of the Matto Grosso, would be very inventive, which they are not.

Here’s the bottom line, as I now see matters.  Incentives matter greatly; therefore, good and innovation-prompting incentives require for their channeling and their refinement sound institutions, ones that also help to ensure the maintenance of these incentives; yet such sound institutions require a culture and an accompanying rhetoric – call it, for convenience, a bourgeois culture and rhetoric – that forms the soil from which those institutions grow and in which they remain firmly rooted and from which they are continually nurtured.

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