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Welcome to Matt Ridley's Blog
Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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The cat of liberty is out of the hierarchical bag

Is modern growth a materialist or an ideological achievement?

Continuing the debate about the industrial revolution with Deirdre McCloskey

Here's her reply to me

...We agree at least that innovation is the key. That's a very, very important agreement. Joel Mokyr, Jack Goldstone, and our own Greg Clark join Matt Ridley, Robert Allen, and me in affirming it. It sets us Innovators off from most economists and historians, who are Accumulators. We say that the modern world got rich by (at a minimum) 1500% percent compared with 1800 not, as the sadly mistaken Accumulators say, because of capital accumulation, or exploitation of the third world, or the expansion of foreign trade. The world got rich by inventing cheap steel, electric lights, marine insurance, reinforced concrete, coffee shops, saw mills, newspapers, automatic looms, cheap paper, modern universities, the transistor, cheap porcelain, corporations, rolling mills, liberation for women, railways.

And here's my reply to her reply.

...Deirdre is delightfully right about many things, including the fact that the Accumulators are wrong. I should have taken more time to acknowledge what a struggle still lies ahead to persuade most of the academic world, let alone the rest of humanity, that the great economic expansion of the past 200 years did not come by piling up "resources" that were stolen from others, or from Gaia. The non-zero-sum message has not yet got through. So yes, compared with that, our little differences are trivial. Her use of innovation as a synonym for growth is a masterstroke.

And here is Greg Clark's latest contribution:

...Deirdre McCloskey points to the association in eighteenth century England between two innovations: the rise of bourgeois virtue, and the Industrial Revolution. But modern experience in China suggests this is an accidental conjunction. Economic growth may demand many social qualities, but virtue does not seem to be one of them.

And Deirdre's reply:

...But we all agree-Ridley, Clark, Mokyr, and I-that the cat of liberty is hard or impossible to put back in the hierarchical bag once the accidental liberals around the North Sea let it out, and especially once it resulted in the 2000% percent or more increase in human scope. For which praise God.