Final Presentation Notes


Chapter 7, pp. 151-192, in Mokyr, Joel. The Lever of Riches. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

What are the mechanisms for economic growth and human prosperity?

Smithian Growth

-Characterized by increases in human prosperity through expansion of markets, division and specialization of labor, and capital accumualation -The gains from Smithian growth involve an increase in production inputs as either labor or capital

Schumpeterian Growth

-Characterized by increases in human prosperity through innovation and technological progress -The gains of Schumpeterian growth involve an increase in output with a corresponding increase in inputs

Thus technological progress is a critical component of human prosperity


How do we characterize technological innovation?


-microinventions are largely predictable, incremental changes in technology.

-Microinventions provide the majority of technology-based productitivy improvements.


-“Macroinventions, on the other hand, are those inventions in which a radical new idea, without clear precedent, emerges more or less ab nihilo.” (Mokyr, 13)

-Macroinventions spawn microinventions


What are the variables influencing the rate of technological progress?

Factors affecting the creative power of the individual
Factors affecting societal rates of technological growth
Life Expectancy
Geographical environment
Path Dependency
Willingness to bear risks
Labor Costs
Science and Technology
Institutions and property rights
Resistance to innovation
Politics and the state
Openness to new information
Demographic factors

Synopsis and Summary of Class Discussion

In The Lever of Riches, Joel Mokyr attempts to explain historical economic growth in terms of technological creativity. He argues that innovation plays the critical role in determining human prosperity by providing an increase in output without a commensurate increase in inputs.  Accordingly, Mokyr’s book explores the variables that influence technological progress through a comprehensive historical analysis. In particular, chapter seven of The Lever of Riches provides a serious attempt to uncover the variables that allow some countries to innovate while preventing others. As the focus of our class is the effect of technology on the environment, exploring the various factors that determine rates of innovation provides crucial insight into human nature, technology, and the environment.

The class discussion, following the presentation of these variables, reflects the complexity inherent in technological progress. No one disagreed that the variables highlighted by Mokyr were significant. Most of the class was also in consensus with Mokyr’s interpretation of such variables on innovation. However, the implications of these variables on future rates of innovation proved difficult to identify. In addition, the sheer quantity of variables and the complex interactions between them leaves one feeling overwhelmed. The class discussion seemed scattered at points, symbolizing the difficulty in unifying so many disparate themes.

In particular, the discussion on crafting policy to influence these variables in favor of future innovation was unable to produce a clear conclusion. This inability to extrapolate future policy demonstrates the complexity of innovation and reinforces the need for future scholarship on technological innovation.