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Science & Olympics II

For historical evidence that “leadership” in science is neither necessary nor sufficient for a country to prosper materially, see the fact-packed book by Joel Mokyr, The Gifts of Athena (2002).

Mokyr argues persuasively that the industrial revolution (and the prosperity that it brought to ordinary people) happened first in England because the English were especially open to new ideas — even ideas that weren’t English in origin. The English were also relatively open to the economic changes that useful new ideas typically spawn. In the 18th century France boasted an impressive number of scientific geniuses, perhaps more than England, and yet England grew economically far faster than did France during the latter half of the 18th century and first part of the 19th. France was not as open to the commercial use of new ideas as were the English.

The English were also creative in devising institutions (for example, professional socieites) to spread these ideas widely and to apply them to commerce and industry.

New ideas are economically worthless if they aren’t allowed to spawn change, to upset any applecarts. And on the other side of the picture, a people who are free to trade with foreigners benefit from whatever worthwhile “foreign” ideas are incorporated into the goods and services they import.