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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 198 of Stephen Davies’s excellent 2019 book, The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity:

The best known feature of the economic life of eighteenth century Britain (and of other parts of Europe as well) was of course technological innovation. This clearly started before 1750 (so, for example, the Newcomen steam engine was invented in 1712) but became more sustained after 1750 – as Joel Mokyr puts it technological innovation was unusual before then but the rule thereafter. The list of innovations in such areas as metalworking, textile production, pottery, and civil engineering is enormous. The best known are the ones often regarded as revolutionary such as James Watt’s invention of the condenser steam engine in 1776 but the ones that had the greatest impact in terms of increasing productivity were those that improved existing technology or filled in gaps such as Watt’s own later refinements to the steam engine or Henry Cort’s perfection of the metal rolling mill to produce bar iron in 1784.

DBx: Look around you. Look carefully. Unless you’re reading this blog post while in a meadow, on a remote beach, or somewhere else ‘in nature’ – which itself would testify to the marvels of market-tested innovation – you are surrounded by the fruits of human innovation. Books on your shelf embody innovations not only in printing, but in paper making, in binding, in publishing, and in distribution. The walls around you are sturdy because of innovations in lumbering or metal making or in the use of concrete. The electricity coursing through the wires hidden within the walls of your home, school, or office is there only because of countless creative innovations, not as much as one percent of which was done by individuals whose names are widely known.

Every moment of every day everyone of us who isn’t a complete hermit living in the woods swims in a gigantic pool of prosperity brought to us by countless acts of human creativity and entrepreneurial ingenuity all incited, constrained, and guided overwhelmingly by what is today a globe-spanning system of market prices. That this reality, like any other human reality, isn’t perfect (by whatever standard) is trivially true. This fact neither surprises nor torments adults. Fortunately, the market itself creates incentives for individuals to seek out ways to improve market processes and outcomes. Unfortunately, the market operates so very well that it creates also the false impression that wealth is generated automatically or that perfection is within human reach. This false impression fathers all manner of misunderstanding along with wrongheaded – and sometimes calamitous – government policies.


Pictured above is Henry Cort (1740-1800). How many of you had heard of him before reading this post?

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