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Russ Roberts (Econ)Talks with Virginia Postrel

I’ve not yet read Virginia Postrel’s new book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, but seldom has a book been released that I’m so eager to read as this one. My eagerness to read it was only heightened by listening to Russ Roberts’s latest podcast with Virginia.

The podcast is fascinating throughout. Here, though, are two of my favorite parts.

Just after the 32-and-a-half-minute mark, Russ asks Virginia about the Luddites. She points out that the Luddites where hypocrites. (The term is mine, not hers.) The Luddites were early 19th-century hand-loom weavers in Great Britain who selfishly opposed the introduction of power looms. But as Virginia notes, the hand-loom weavers themselves at that time earned the relatively good livings that they earned – and which they sought to use coercion to protect – only because of earlier mechanization of spinning. Had not good thread been made much more abundantly available by earlier technological advances in spinning, the hand-loom weavers would not have had the relatively high-paying weaving jobs that they cherished so much and wished not to lose.

This fact is key to why I describe the Luddites as selfish. They were content to enjoy the fruits of technological advances that yielded to them personal benefits, but they were not content to allow others to enjoy such fruits if this enjoyment came at the Luddites’ expense.

A second especially nice point that Virginia makes starts around the 51-minute mark. There, Virginia explains that, just recently, an American weaver reintroduced into Peru a long-lost weaving technique once used by the Incas.