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The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy
The growth of technological and scientific knowledge in the past two centuries has been the overriding dynamic element in the economic and social history of the world. Its result is now often called the knowledge economy. But what are the historical origins of this revolution and what have been its mechanisms? In The Gifts of Athena, Joel Mokyr constructs an original ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 7th 2004 by Princeton University Press
(first published November 4th 2002)
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Joel Mokyr is my favorite economist, historian, and intellectual merely for his devotion to details and creating a tenacious argument. This is the second book of his I read, after The Lever of Riches, which is better only for its expansive scope of identifying how various societies develop economically and others don't. I'm sorry Jared Diamond, but Mokyr nails it, drives it home, and puts it to bed: societies only prosper for their desire to create better technologies; Geography has little to do ...more
Really enjoyed the model employed to explain phenomena. Unfortunately I don't think the evidence for it was compelling. Nevertheless I found that this book used very interesting sources of data. It's a good book I just don't think it achieves what it sets out to, which is to show that epistemic and technical knowledge are important variables in explaining paradigms. I think focusing purely on technical knowledge is sufficient.
Professor Mokyr was one of my economics professors at Northwestern University. From a footnote in one of Richard Florida's books on Creative Capital, I was directed to this book, 20 years after graduating with my economics degree. As I joked with my Professor over lunch in Evanston, after reading his book, he is even more interesting now, than he was in my Sophomore year... :-)
Joel Mokyr is a Netherlands-born American-Israeli economic historian. He is the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of economics and history at Northwestern University, and Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics at the University of Tel Aviv.
“All this is not to suggest that the growth in useful knowledge is leading us to a world of bliss. Athena's gifts were many: she gave King Cecrops the olive tree, but she also gave the city of Troy the wooden horse that led to its destruction. Technology makes people more powerful in exploiting nature, but how and for what purpose they do so remains indeterminate. If the twentieth century has shown us anything, it is that the capacity of humans for intolerance, stupidity, and selfishness has not declined as their technological power has increased.”
“A century ago, historians of technology felt that individual inventors were the main actors that brought about the Industrial Revolution. Such heroic interpretations were discarded in favor of views that emphasized deeper economic and social factors such as institutions, incentives, demand, and factor prices. It seems, however, that the crucial elements were neither brilliant individuals nor the impersonal forces governing the masses, but a small group of at most a few thousand people who formed a creative community based on the exchange of knowledge. Engineers, mechanics, chemists, physicians, and natural philosophers formed circles in which access to knowledge was the primary objective. Paired with the appreciation that such knowledge could be the base of ever-expanding prosperity, these elite networks were indispensable, even if individual members were not. Theories that link education and human capital to technological progress need to stress the importance of these small creative communities jointly with wider phenomena such as literacy rates and universal schooling.”More quotes…