what makes some societies more encouraging of
technological change than others?--not just economic factors
Note that Mokyr does not see invention as always starting from
or at least the need is always there, it is invention that
varies between societies
separate demand and rewards
- there is always a demand (potential market)
for ways to make life easier
- is it simply impossibility that holds back
- or is the issue that the person who invents
one doesn't necessarily get rewarded?
- but reward isn't just profit
separate demand and income
- demand goes up when income goes up
- but if technology causes income to go up then demand is
not an independent variable
what are the social factors?
- the common individual preferences in society will have
some effect: willingness to take risks, work hard and defer
- also how seriously is concern about change or even damage
to the environment
- what about putting people out of work
- the Rust Brothers demonstrated a cotton harvesting
machine in 1935
- they were concerned about the unemployment this would
- they also didn't have enough capital to bring it into
- International Harvester started selling a similar
machine in 1947
- how strong is the attachment to stability
Factors that encourage technological progress:
- longer life expectancy, but the evidence isn't very
- better nutrition (in the southern US pellagra was
common--a disease caused by low levels of protein)
- willingness to take risks and optimism (thinking the
risks are lower than they are)
- availability of resources, but the argument isn't
- technological progress may cause utilization of resources
rather than vice versa, or lack of resources may stimulate
Path dependency or technological momentum
- one technology leads to another
- some paths lead to more and more progress, others to dead
- but path chosen doesn't describe very well why some
societies are technologically successful
- high wages may stimulate the invention of labor-saving
- but the inventors of the early British industrial
revolution weren't focused on saving labor
What about science?
- not the key stimulating factor because technologies are
often developed before the necessary science
- does the religion support human mastery over nature?
- consider the Hindu caste system as a disincentive to
technological progress--it is impossible to better your lot in
- how much value is put on wealth? this varies in
- is it better to be brave or wise than to be rich?
- is property valued more highly than money?
- prejudices may affect what succeeds
- what are the relative values placed on useful vs.
- Europeans were more pragmatic
Institutions and property rights
- pluralist societies are probably more progressive
- security in ownership would encourage people to take
- intellectual property (patents)?
- could stimulate invention but certainly many inventors
made do without
- could slow progress
Resistance to innovation:
- those who have invested in one technology will resist
technologies that replace it
Politics and the state
- weak governments are usually good for innovation
- government encouragement of innovation plays a
- how much tolerance is there for nonconformity?
- military produces new needs and is willing to develop
technologies that would not be profitable
- but also puts a very high value on conformity
- whether war results in technological innovation depends
on other factors
Openness to new information
- prejudice against outsiders reduces diffusion of ideas
- in the later Islamic world the word for innovation also
- a common language helps a lot
- population growth leads to innovation?
- or population density?
- there are many counter-examples