Thursday, May 07, 2009

Two novel reasons for the industrial revolution: no sex and coffee

I listen to a lot of podcasts on my commutes. One that is not particularly good, but fills the time is a BBC podcast on recent pop-sociology called Thinking Allowed.

A couple recent episodes though postulated two novel reasons for the industrial revolution.

This is an oft studied question, since it seems to be a key piece of economic development. China led the world in economic development up until as late as 1800 when the industrial revolution allowed the UK and the Anglo- world to take a commanding lead, which it has yet to give up.

Donald (now Deirdre) McCloskey argues that it was the enclosure movement, the idea that whereas before fields were all public land, changes in law that made land private created the incentives for investment, and thus the revolution.

The two that were thrown out in recent episodes of Thinking Allowed:

1) No sex. The Victorian ethos that led to sexual repression created a torrent of creative energy that had no other outlet for release except in productivity. As Newton aprocryphally said on his deathbed that his greatest achievement was dying a virgin.

2) Coffee. The arrival of coffee from the New World and the spread of coffeehouses which replaced wine as the drink dujour was responsible for the great gains in productivity.
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