Adam Smith wrote, according to Dugald Stewart (1811), Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D. (Edinburgh: George Romney): "Man is generally considered by statesmen and projectors as the materials of 'a sort of political mechanics. Projectors disturb nature in the course of her operations in human affairs; and it requires no more than to let her alone, and 'give her fail play id the. pursuit of her ends, that she may establish her own designs..." And: "Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest glegree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a -tolerable administration. of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things/ All governments.which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical..."

This is Douglass North and Barry Weingast's story. Is it sufficient to give us an understanding of the industrious--commercial--revolution? And is it sufficient to give us an understanding of the industrial revolution, and what has followed it?


Writing Assignment:

In his article Voth cites the elegant dictum of D. N. McCloskey that "ingenuity rather than abstention governed the Industrial Revolution." By this McCloskey meant that technological change was more important than a rise in investment (and a corresponding decline in current consumption) in driving economic growth during the Industrial Revolution. Voth concludes his article as follows: "Abstention seems to have been more important than invention [in bringing about the Industrial Revolution]but it was abstention from leisure ... that was at the core of economic growth." Does Voth provide the evidence needed to persuade you that he is correct? Is his evidence convincing to Clark? What evidence would you deem necessary to make this case?

Write a 200-500 essay on this topic. At least 18 hours before the class--by 6 PM PST on February 9, 2010--email your paper.

Or, alternatively, wrestle with North and Weingast (and Smith).

Thoughts, Notes, and Questions:

  • Why isn't monarchy good enough to produce "industrious revolution"-level prosperity? Hobbes called it "Leviathan". Mancur Olson called it a "stationary bandit". Why do DeLong and Shleifer say that "Leviathan" alone is insufficient?
  • How strong is DLS's empirical evidence, really? Why should "merchants" be different from "princes"? The peculiar status of the European city... Why so few "merchants" elsewhere in the early-modern world? China, India, Middle East (Ibn Khaldun).
  • What, exactly, changes to make the "industrious revolution" possible? What did peasants do in the evening before the "industrious revolution"? What did they do afterwards? How large can these effects plausibly be? What is an "entre-preneur"?
  • Re: Adam Smith: The literature of "political oeconomy". "The system of natural liberty" as a game-changing insight. How reliant is Book V on Book I?

Additional and Optional Readings:

Class Outline: