The Torch of Progress

The Torch of Progress – Ep. 6 with Joel Mokyr

Ashley Yates

Join us for The Torch of Progress – Episode 6 with Joel Mokyr.

Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Progress: How the Modern Age Got Started

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Transcript – The Torch of Progress, Ep. 6 with Joel Mokyr

In This Episode We Discuss:

(0:15) Introductions – Progress Studies for Young Scholars

(0:55) Upcoming Guest Speakers – Noor Siddiqui, Dr. Anton Howes, and Danica Remy

(1:42) Jason Crawford, author of Roots of Progress and Joel Mokyr, Professor of Economics and author of A Culture of Growth, The gifts of Athena, and The Levers of Riches among others.

(3:05) With the current wave of protests against racial injustice and discrimination, here is a silly question: Why, really, isn’t it the other way around? Why didn’t black people have white slaves?

(5:34) What is the source of the inequality? If not biology or geography, it must be history.

(9:35) Culture and Progress

(11:00) Skepticism – Europe had rediscovered the learning of ancient Greece and Rome but realized there was a lot of error as well.

(13:15) Open-ness – Europeans were willing to learn from other civilizations and adopted or stole their ideas. They began traveling around the world and began to adopt new forms of technology and medicine – The Colombian Exchange

(16:00) Neophilia – Europeans rewarded intellectual innovators (i.e. Isaac Newton). Leading scientists became celebrities.

(18:08) Aptitudes (skill)

(18:18) Not all ideas, even if in principle sound, could be realized

(18:33) Leonardo DaVinci drew hundreds of pictures of technological ideas that were never built

(19:15) Other inventions actually worked but couldn’t be commercially realized or scaled up

(21:03) Europe acquired an advantage

(21:20) 1400 – compared to the Europeans, Chinese had superior technological capabilities in shipbuilding, navigation, metallurgy, hydraulics, textiles, printing, weapons, and engineering

(21:51) 1582 – Jesuits arrive in China and noticed how backwards China was in many areas (Matteo Ricci). Many of the skills the Chinese used to have had deteriorated

(22:45) 1550 Asia still had a highly skilled class of artisans who produces many of the goods Europeans sailed around the globe to get

(23:00) 1700 European artists were quickly improving

(24:20) The growth in the quality of workmanship and materials in the preceding centuries helps explain the timing and location of the Industrial revolution.

(24:36) Why did none of Leonardo’s inventions ever become a reality but James Watt’s did?

(27:00) Mechanical skills were part of the knowledge that Dr. Johnson was talking about. The success of Europe in generating this knowledge was due to the basic notion that artisans and scientists should talk to each other and cooperate. Science and mathematics were supposed to serve practical purposes.

(28:15) The Industrial Enlightenment

(29:30) Industrial Enlightenment Man – Rene Reaumur.

(30:45) In Britain, this connection between scientists and industrialists was socially engrained

(31:50) There was an Industrial Enlightenment- Modern economic growth was driven by a combination of attitude and aptitude

(32:25) The great irony of history: Europeans used this knowledge to subjugate and exploit people elsewhere in the world. Yet the descendants of these subjugates people are today far richer than their ancestors thanks to European knowledge.

(33:20) So that’s the past: what about the future? Can progress continue?

(35:47) “Institutional Progress” vs technological progress Q&A

(37:25) Francis Bacon in the 1500’s had this idea that we could do science and it would lead to improvements in industry but it took 200 years to come true. How did a whole culture of people keep trying for 200 years and hold on to this idea without having the industrial revolution and not give up?

(42:50) Last week we had on Professor Deirdre McCloskey. She emphasizes the moral and social aspects of honor and dignity and how that lead to more liberty for inventors and industrialists. You really emphasize the epistemological. Are these ideas complimentary? Can they be combined?

(48:16) Do you see how new powers such as the U.S. are going back in terms of attitude? How can we solve this? Do you see any countries following the three important attitudes

(53:43) Our education system is more of factual learning environment. Do you think it is eliminating our creativity and slowing down the world’s progress?

(57:15) You said you firmly believe that in the world we have the top 3% of people dragging along the other 97%. Do you think this non-ideal balance could tip in favor of the progressors, if open borders were introduced (in terms of immigration), providing opportunity to disadvantaged immigrants to perhaps discover an innovative/progressive side to them instead of being dragged along.

(59:59) Follow Joel: find his papers and reflections on current covid crisis and send him an email – https://www.economics.northwestern.ed…

About Joel Mokyr

Joel Mokyr is the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University. He is the author of ten books, many of which won major prizes. His most recent book is A Culture of Growth, published by Princeton University Press in 2016.

He has served as the senior editor of the Journal of Economic History from 1994 to 1998, was the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History (published in July 2003), and serves as the editor in chief of a book series, the Princeton University Press Economic History of the Western World. He served as President of the Economic History Association 2003-04, President of the Midwest Economics Association in 2007/08, President of the Atlantic Economic Association (2015/16), and is a director of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Professor Mokyr was awarded the biennial Heineken Prize by the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences for a lifetime achievement in historical science and the prestigious Balzan Prize for Economic History awarded once every twenty years. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Econometric Society, and a number of foreign academies. In 2018 he was elected as a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association.

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