People have tried to explain the causes behind the extreme unbalance in prosperity in different parts of the world over the last two centuries. In an article titled How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich the author pinpoints the missing ingredient that brought about the last few centuries of progress and prosperity to Western Europe and the U.S.
The Great Enrichment is the most important secular event since human beings first domesticated wheat and horses. It has been and will continue to be more important historically than the rise and fall of empires or the class struggle in all hitherto existing societies. Empire did not enrich Britain. America’s success did not depend on slavery. Power did not lead to plenty, and exploitation was not plenty’s engine. Progress toward French-style equality of outcome was achieved not by taxation and redistribution but by the Scots’ very different notion of equality. The real engine was the expanding ideology of classical liberalism.
Liberty – unlocking the medieval class system – finally allowed upward mobility. It unleashed human potential.
No longer confined to a class they couldn’t escape, people were free to go wherever their effort and understanding led them. Free and cheap education led to mass consumption and sharing of ideas, which led to, as the author quotes in the article, “ideas started having sex.” Progress happened. The U.S. was founded on the ideals of liberty and benefited from it immensely because people gravitated to it and still do. And it’s been an unstoppable force ever since.
The book How the Scots Invented the Modern World explains this early transformation in detail.
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