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The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World Was Created

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2004

    Bad Wine In New Bottle

    I rushed to the local bookstore to pick up a copy of Birth Of Plenty, heralded by publicity of its entirely new premise and potential to create an altogether new category of books. Needless to say after my rating of two stars that I am disappointed by how old and repetitive most of the arguments in the book were. The four reasons for economic progress did not coincide on that date but were put in place slowly over a millenium as human progress could not be held back any longer. Columbus and Vasco De Gama set sail in the sixteenth century not the nineteenth century, and thats the problem with the book's so-called new reasoning. The Tulipomania was over by 1636, about the most sophisticated evidence of property rights one can find to date. First, it is obvious that no economic historian of note has been shown the book, certainly none with independence. For any good economist could tell you that Economic History 101 has always talked about the turning point of 1820-which is not a new premise at all. Angus Madison remains one of the most celebrated economic historians for precisely this finding. So does Charles Kindleberger. They do a better job revealing the acceleration of human progress into the nineteenth century rather than the epochal moment put forth by William Bernstein. Second, and most disappointing were the four reasons why economic progress took off. None were really created around 1820 and the four did not come together for the first time in 1820 either. Certainly all four existed in sufficient amount for the maritime discovery of the world. Is there anything more epochal than those moments? Indeed, property rights were in existence long before the nineteenth century. And most of the reforms in property rights (including bankruptcy reforms and security asset innovation) LAGGED economic progress rather than caused it. A second reason cited is scientific progress. Here is a classic chicken and egg reasoning in a book that purports to resolve that dilemma. A third reason was securities market innovation but the book ignores the fact that virtually all securities innovation came decades after it should have been due. And certainly the stock markets and IPO were innovated in 1602 not 1820. Then the book relies on the transportation revolution. It has to of course because 1820 marks the advent of the Century of Railroads. Here again is a chicken and egg problem. It also does not acknowledge how James Watts' watching his mom's kettle ties into any macro issue it cites. All in all, the book is interesting to someone who has not studied Law 101, Economic History 101, the stories of colonization or the thousands of books on the ascent of Western Civilization. For those who have, this has to be the most repetitive and pretentious book in recent memory.

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