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The Great Enrichment: A Humanistic and Social Scientific Account

  • Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Abstract

From 1800 to the present the average person on the planet has been enriched in real terms by a factor of 10, or some 900 percent. In the ever-rising share of places from Belgium to Botswana, and now in China and India, that have agreed to the Bourgeois Deal—“Let me earn profits from creative destruction in the first act, and by the third act I will make all of you rich”—the factor is 30 in conventional terms and, if allowing for improved quality of goods and services, such as in improved glass and autos, or improved medicine and higher education, a factor of 100. That is, the reward from allowing ordinary people to have a go, the rise at first in northwestern Europe and then worldwide of economic liberty and social dignity, eroding ancient hierarchy and evading modern regulation, has been anything from 2,900 to 9,900 percent. What needs to be explained in a modern social science history is not the Industrial Revolution(s) but the Great Enrichment, one or two orders of magnitude larger than any previous change in human history. The article takes seriously the lesson of comparative history that Europe was not unique until 1700 and argues that ideas—specifically Bourgeois liberal ideas—not capital or institutions, made the modern world.

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