Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity

In the first session of this course, we noted that human prosperity is really recent in historical terms — only around 250 years old. It is an important point for us to understand since it explains a lot about what the world is like today, we should spend some time understanding it well. Here are a couple of brief videos.

The first is by the brilliant economic historian Deirdre McCloskey. I have immense respect for her. About her, the wiki says she is “the Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also adjunct professor of Philosophy and Classics …”

Turn on close captioning (the CC button) in case you have difficulty following her speech. (Reason for her peculiar sounding voice is botched vocal cord surgery.)

The next video also addresses the same point. About the video:

“Professor Don Boudreaux explores the question economists have been asking since the era of Adam Smith — what creates wealth? On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries. Without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time—after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?”

For those who are interested in more advanced understanding of the subject, here are two papers for your reference, both by Art Carden and Deirdre McCloskey.

NOTE: The videos are required viewing but the papers are merely suggested reading and not required for the beginner student.

Author: Atanu Dey


One thought on “Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity”

  1. The second video by Prof. Boudreaux illustrates the diversity that the free-market brings out. People who otherwise would not care for each other can now collaborate with the help of this “invisible hand” to work together in wealth creation. The second reminds me of the I, Pencil video by Prof. Milton Friedman.

    Question: Are free-market principles limited to achieving economic prosperity, or can they be effective tools for social change given the nature of the invisible hand?

    Thank you.

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