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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 11-12 of 2006 Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps’s 2013 book, Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change; by “scientism,” Phelps here means the belief that science (or “Science”) is the chief cause of the industrial revolution and of continued economic progress – “mass flourishing” – for ordinary men and women:

Any important new piece of scientific knowledge is accessible in scholarly publications at little or no cost – it is for this reason that it is called a public good.  Scientific knowledge, therefore, tends to be roughly equalized across countries.  So if we were to accept advances in scientific knowledge as the major explanation of the huge increases in economic knowledge in the take-off nations [that is Great Britain, the U.S., and other ‘first-world’ countries], it would then be very hard to explain the mounting disparities (starting from rough equality in 1820) in economic knowledge over the 19th century – the Great Divergence as it has been dubbed.  It would be necessary to string together a half dozen ad hoc explanations to account for Britain’s early, unsustainable lead, followed by America’s durable lead, Belgium’s and France’s advances, and Germany’s progress late in the game.  It would be necessary to explain from the perspective of scientism how America left France in the dust, then blew past Belgium and finally overtook Britain, when America was the country least schooled in science and, being exceptionally far geographically from the others, had least access to scientific discoveries.  It would be an even greater challenge to explain how the Netherlands and Italy remained at the starting gate, despite their sophistication in science.

The industrial revolution – mass flourishing – widespread and growing prosperity for ordinary people – was not and is not caused by scientific advances.


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