Book review: The Enlightened Economy -

A Revolution Of the Mind

The Industrial Enlightenment put knowledge in the service of production, changing the course of history.


In the coming days and weeks, the Hamptons, the Vineyard and all the other August escapes from workaday life will likely see a bull market in pessimism as financiers and powerbrokers reach into their summer book bags to relive the recession or look ahead to even greater disaster. "Lofty geo- globaloney tomes on the future of the world" is how the economist Nouriel Roubini has described his summer reading list. Alan Greenspan has said that he will delve into "Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World," which sounds more like a penance than poolside pleasure.

Which is why summer demands some more hopeful fare and why a last-minute claim for room in any escape should be allowed for Joel Mokyr's "The Enlightened Economy." A former editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Mr. Mokyr sets out to answer what, on the face of it, is an old question: Why did Britain have an industrial revolution first? Why not France or the Netherlands, given their economic power in the 17th century and, at the time, the increasingly free market in ideas between Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and London?

Mr. Mokyr's answer—articulated in densely packed but gratifyingly lucid prose—is that in Britain ideas interacted vigorously with business interests in "a positive feedback loop that created the greatest sea change in economic history since the advent of culture."

Reduced to a thumbnail sketch, liberty and natural philosophy—a catch-all term for the study of "useful" knowledge— begat prosperity, which begat more liberty and useful knowledge, which in turn spread through Europe and the Americas.

Mr. Mokyr is well aware that marrying economics to intellectual history has little appeal for many economists who, he says, share a decidedly ironic affinity with Marx for some variant of historical materialism. Economic events are thus explained by the economic decisions that realize profit. But as historical explanation, this is thin gruel.

It ignores changing cultural values and the power of persuasion, not least by dint of appealing to reason. What Mr. Mokyr calls the "Industrial Enlightenment"—to distinguish it from the specifics of the French Enlightenment—was animated, he argues, by a belief "that material progress and economic growth could be achieved through increasing human knowledge of natural phenomena and making this knowledge accessible to those who could make use of it in production."

The goal was betterment, prosperity, personal happiness—the constellation of intellectual goods that came to dethrone salvation as the reason for human existence. Practical problems acquired a philosophical urgency, and where once innovation was "an efflorescence rather than a continuous process," nature came to be seen as something that could be controlled and exploited through inductive and experimental methods.

The Enlightened Economy

By Joel Mokyr
Yale, 564 pages, $45

But the power of knowledge would not, by itself, have given Britain its formidable economic edge; the Continent, too, had an array of scientific genius as brilliant as any in Scotland and England. (Think only of the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier.) The reason for Britain's exceptionalism, Mr. Mokyr says, lies in the increasing hostility to rent-seeking—the use of political power to redistribute rather than create wealth—among the country's most important intellectuals in the second half of the 18th century. Indeed, a host of liberal ideas, in the classic sense, took hold: the rejection of mercantilism's closed markets, the weakening of guilds and the expansion of internal free trade, and robust physical and intellectual property rights all put Britain far ahead of France, where violent revolution was needed to disrupt the privileges of the old regime.

Such political upheaval in Europe, notes Mr. Mokyr, disrupted trade, fostered uncertainty, and may well have created all kinds of knock-on social disincentives for technological and scientific innovation and collaboration with business. Much as we might deplore too many of our brightest students going into law rather than chemistry or engineering, it is not unreasonable to think that many of France's brightest thinkers were diverted by brute events into political rather than scientific activism (or chastened by poor Lavoisier's beheading during the Revolution).

Thus Montesquieu may have advocated free trade as passionately as Adam Smith, but Smith's "Wealth of Nations"—the canonical text of the Industrial Enlightenment—fell upon a society primed to judge and implement it as an operating system. Evangelical and liberal alike shared in the vision of "frugal" government, as Mr. Mokyr puts it. In the opening decades of the 19th century, Parliament took an ax to itself, pruning the books of what were now seen as harmfully restrictive laws.

It is impossible to do justice to the subtlety and detail of "The Enlightened Economy"; it is the product of a lifetime of research and thought, and stands as a landmark work of history; but more to the point, its perceptive examination of the birth of economic prosperity holds many arresting insights for our fraught economic times, where freedom is increasingly associated with government regulation and politicians appear all too-willing to accommodate new varieties of rent seeking.

It is also refreshing, and possibly redemptive, to be reminded of a time when scientists composed poetry—as Charles Darwin's polymathic grandfather, Erasmus, did praise of steel—and when the idea that agronomy and geology and metallurgy were as vital and as exciting as any of the arts.

Mr. Butterworth is the editor of and a columnist for



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Good background information for the period.

The Dead of Night

November 23rd, 2010 11:53 am

The Dead of the Night

One big story that hasn’t yet made it across the Spanish-English divide is the epic of Don Alejo Garza, an elderly farmer who fought a one-man stand against a drug gang.  When they gave him a deadline to leave his property or else, Garza sent his ranch hands home and armed himself. There he waited. When the gang came in the dead of the night he met them with a fusilade and killed four and wounded two before the numerically superior drug enforcers finally took him out with gunfire and hand-grenades. The Mexican Marines arrived on the scene to find  bodies all over and an old man at the center of it all.


Sounds like the making of a Hollywood movie. Now this was a Don!

Closed market’s valediction ironically explains its failure

Closed market’s valediction ironically explains its failure

posted at 11:36 am on November 12, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

There are few things more annoying than people blaming their failures on others.  There are few things more ironically humorous than watching a clueless person publicly scold people and in the process reveal his or her own ignorance.  And since examples of both at the same time come along so rarely, we have to take a good look at the Boston Herald’s report on the closing of Don Otto’s Market, a niche food market in Boston’s South End, where the management briefly posted a tirade against its customers for failing to buy what the owners demanded:

The manager of Don Otto’s – a recently shuttered food market in the South End – is blaming neighborhood patrons for its untimely demise, cooking up an angry message to fair-weather fans of the Tremont Street eatery.

“Don Otto’s Market wants to say we had few customers that understood customer loyalty and its importance to our business,” a message on its Web site reads, later adding: “If you came in only for baguettes, the occasional piece of cheese, the occasional dinner . . . you can not tell yourself you were a supporter of our market.”

The scalding remonstrance was written by Erin McLaughlin, 28, who ran the shop and is engaged to the owner, Michael Otto, 31.

“It was quite frank,” she acknowledged yesterday. “People don’t understand their purchases make a difference, and that by buying something that wasn’t exactly what you want, it gets you closer to what you want. It’s an investment.”

Actually, it was more revealing than McLaughlin realizes.  Perhaps she has spent too much time in Barney Frank’s district (he was a customer), but businesses don’t succeed by telling customers what they should want to buy.  Customers have this annoying tendency to know how they want to spend their own money, and businesses succeed by adapting to demand, not demanding that customers adapt to the owner’s own tastes in supply.  And if people wanted to “invest” in Don Otto’s, they would have bought stock in it rather than food they don’t want at prices that discouraged sales.

In a way, though, this is an allegory of elitism in general.  McLaughlin couldn’t pass laws to make sure that people could only buy her $28-per-pound steak, but she certainly sounds as if she would have done so if given the opportunity.  Her contempt for her customers is not dissimilar to the contempt shown by those in political office who pass laws barring restaurants from using saturated fats in their cooking, who ban Happy Meals, and who overhaul entire economic sectors because they believe people can’t make their own choices.

It looks as though McLaughlin at least learned that blaming customers for not surrendering to her diktats in the name of “investment” makes for bad public relations.  The valediction has disappeared from the website, replaced by a simple notice that Don Otto’s is closed.

Update: It looks as though arrogance really was the business plan, and it only took six months to fail.  Lee Doren sent over a Boston Globe story from May reporting on the new ownership and its goals:

Prepared foods include duck leg confit and a popular veggie lasagna. Otto and Lundberg are continuing to smoke bacon in house. All of the meats sold at the shop are local; prices are high but Otto says customers are coming in regularly with weekly meat orders that top $400.

Otto’s mission is to help shift people’s thinking about what food should cost, especially non-manufactured, non-processed foods. Although pricey eggs may not be for everyone, salsa, made in nearby Jamaica Plain, is a bit more accessible for the everyday shopper. The same goes for a jar of cider jelly from Springfield, Vt., that Lundberg has incorporated into pork dishes.

Eggs, from free-range chickens, are $8.50 a dozen. When asked whether people will balk at the cost, Otto shrugs and explains these chickens’ laying routine. “Their lay cycles rely on the sun, not on artificial lamps that distort production,’’ he says.

And customers’ shopping habits rely on how much things cost in relation to value as they perceive it, a lesson Otto learned the hard way.  There is nothing wrong with trying a business model and failing; that’s how innovation works.  But it’s beyond arrogant to blame customers for not paying exorbitant amounts of money for items they didn’t perceive as valuable just to support a failing business model.

This story brought out the free-market types to make fun of the social engineering types. Why should I have to "support" a market? If it sells what I want, it will make money from me. If not, I will go elsewhere. Not that hard to understand...

Matters of life and death – Prospect Magazine

Matters of life and death

  7th October 2010  —  Issue 175 Free entry
Interest in “trolleyology”—a way of studying moral quandaries—has taken off in recent years. Some philosophers say it sheds useful light on human behaviour, others see it as a pointless pursuit of the unknowable

The “trolley problem” thought experiment is designed to test our moral intuitions

A shocking memo leaked to Prospect, drafted by civil servants from the treasury and the department of health, exposes the stark reality of future cutbacks. Harsh decisions are inevitable, says the memo; in one NHS trust people on life-support systems are to be “finished off” on 1st November—either by smothering, or by having the plugs pulled out. Their organs are then to be used to save the lives of others on transplant-waiting lists, who have themselves become a considerable burden to the taxpayer. The total saving to the trust is estimated at £2.3m a year.

Hogwash, of course. But the government will make some tough choices in its spending review on 20th October, and these will cost lives. Whether “efficiencies” are made in the department of transport, the military or the NHS, there will be victims, even if they are unidentifiable. Governments always have to prioritise—choosing, for example, between a cheap medicine which benefits few people a little, and an expensive one which benefits many people a lot. But in hard financial times, such predicaments become more acute.

Moral philosophers have long debated under what circumstances it is acceptable to kill and why, for example, we object to killing a patient for their organs, but not to a distribution of resources that funds some drugs rather than others. To understand the debate you need to understand the trolley problem. It was conceived decades ago by two grande dames of philosophy: Philippa Foot of Oxford University (click here to read more about Foot) and Judith Jarvis Thomson of MIT. The core problem involves two thought experiments—call the first “Spur” and the second “Fat Man.”

In Spur, (see diagram one, below), an out-of-control trolley—or train—is hurtling towards five people on the track, who face certain death. You are nearby and, by turning a switch, could send the trolley onto a spur and save their lives. But one man is chained to the spur and would be killed if the trolley is diverted. Should you flick the switch?

In Fat Man (see diagram two), the same trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are on a footbridge overlooking the track, next to a fat man. (The Fat Man is now sometimes described as a large gentleman. But fat or large, the fact of his corpulence is essential.) If you were to push him off the bridge onto the track his bulk would stop the trolley and save the lives of those five people—but kill him. Do you push him?

Study after study has shown that people will sacrifice the spur man but not the fat man. Yet in both cases, one person is killed to save five others. What, then, is the relevant ethical distinction between them? This question has spawned a thriving academic mini-industry, called trolleyology.

See link for the rest,,,,

C. S. Lewis: Of all tyrannies

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C. S. Lewis


MLA's Open Letter to Arizona Governor

There is no rational basis for making language ability an indicator of an individual’s citizenship or residency status.

That sentence appears in an open letter issued by the Moderrn Language Association (MLA)  to the Governor of Arizona in protest of the law passed by its legislature requiring law enforcement officers to check the residency status of anyone they lawfully stop for other reasons whose residency status the officer has reason to doubt.  The Supreme Court has already held that an officer who stopped a car full of people in the early morning and found that none could speak English and none had legal ID was within his rights in taking them to the Federal Immigration Center, where they were found to be "undocumented" (some say, "illegal aliens.')

"There is no rational basis" is a huge claim to defend. Why not claim instead that there is merely insufficient reational basis?  That while there may be SOME reason to think that people who cannot speak English may be foreigners and therefore may be undocumented, the preponderance of reason is on the other side, Surely, a skillful reasoner will defend the easier to defend proposition. But not the MLA. Instead, they make a demonstrably false claim. The reason for the blunder is that they want to influence a court: "no rational basis" is a legal term from Constitutional law. The Constitution of the United States holds that states may not discriminate against particular groups or individuals when there is no rational basis for doing so. Conversely, a rational basis will allow some laws to stand. States can and do discriminate against prostitutes, since it is rational to want to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  The MLA wants to go on record as supporting the claim that Arizona had no rational basis "for making language ability an indicator of ... residency status." We could all agree that it would not make sense for language to be the sole indicator. But that is not what the MLA claims. They claim it cannot be an indicator at all. Contra Arizona, the MLA contends that one ought not to think a question of legal status is raised because of language and accent--even when taken together with other evidence.

Would a rational being doubt the proposition that if we wish to pressure illegal immigrants to return to their country of origin--nothing stops them from applying for citizenship--we must first find them? And while the ideal of the MLA is lovely--the law cannot even SUSPECT me just because I can't speak English and have no means of identifying myself--it remains true that we ALL get inconvenienced by the law from time to time. Arizona believes taht the rational basis test is well met when one considers the problems Arizona is trying to solve.

Is the MLA a scholarly organization or a political activist group? Nowadays the question may not even make sense to some.


liberal fascism vs classical liberalism


"Liberal Fascism" Explained succinctly here:

More seriously, Obama did not just run on skin color (though that certainly helped). He ran on a platform of a sort of "liberal fascism," an ideology that is accepting of all ideas and parties so long as those ideas do not include private property, individual liberty, economic freedom, or any of the other ideas of classical liberalism including Christianity (Christianity has not always been an ally of classical liberalism, but I believe the reason the religion is targeted by the Left is because it is a religion which has made terms with and can coexist with classical liberalism). Understand they don't call themselves fascism, but if you read the book which goes by that name, you'll understand why I do call them that.
The ideology is extremely difficult to define because of this superficial diversity; you can be anything you want, so long as you're not a christian or an advocate of classical liberalism (they also don't work with fascists anymore, since fascism has been so UTTERLY discredited, but they did prior to WWII), but I'll give it a shot.

The utopian vision of this new liberal fascism is one of environmental friendliness, sustainable living, economic activity regulated for the good of the earth, and some new system of economic distribution such that everyone will always have everything they need (food, housing and health care, mainly) with nobody being truly poor and with only small differences between rich and poor. It focuses on group rights (women, minorities, gays) instead of individual rights, and on the welfare of the community (as necessary to preserve the environment and enact social justice) rather than the individual. Because of this, it must rely on coercion to enforce its tenents, and for human nature to change in order to destroy the basic idea of working for personal gain. These are the fundamental facts which link it to totalitarian ideas and sever it from classical liberalism, since classical liberalism believes in the right of the individual to his own life and happiness and only sanctions the use of force in retaliation.

Thoughts on Lincoln


Lincoln's Birthday
By Dr. Michael Burlingame, February 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

Today is the 201st birthday of America's 16th president.

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln speaks to us not only as a champion of freedom, democracy, and national unity, but also a source of inspiration. Few will achieve his world historical importance, but many can profit from his personal example, encouraged by the knowledge that despite a childhood of emotional malnutrition and grinding poverty, despite a lack of formal education, despite a series of career failures, despite a miserable marriage, despite a tendency to depression, despite a painful midlife crisis, despite the early death of his mother and his siblings as well as of his sweetheart and two of his four children, he became a model of psychological maturity, moral clarity, and unimpeachable integrity. His presence and his leadership inspired his contemporaries; his life story can do the same for generations to come. -- from Abraham Lincoln: A Life