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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > October 2016 > Ideas that built the world

Ideas that built the world

Liberalism made us brave, bold—and rich, argues Deirdre McCloskey

A Culture of Growth:

The Origins of the Modern Economy

by Joel Mokyr (Princeton University Press, £24.95)

Joel Mokyr—“moh-keer”—is a Nobel-worthy economic scientist, right down to his wingtip shoes. But he is at the same time a brilliant historical scientist. Economics and history have very different intellectual values. Mokyr combines them to give us here an intellectual history of “the origins of the modern economy” back to the times of Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon and before.

At Northwestern University in the United States, Mokyr is an honour-draped professor in both the department of economics and the department of history, and teaches also at the University of Tel Aviv. If you didn’t know much about how modern economics operates as a field you would imagine that such combined skills were routine.

Surely? After all, the data for understanding the economy are historical, and come in words as much as in numbers. We don’t have future or theoretical or stylised or imagined or convenient facts. We have instead the irritating facts, all of them historical, mainly about what dead people said and thought. So of course an economic scientist, like an astronomical scientist looking at stars many light years away or an evolutionary scientist looking at beasts many millions of years ago, would be serious about understanding our ancestral economies many decades or centuries away—yes?

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s October issue: Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz tells our new Editor Tom Clark why globalisation has made him more radical. Rachel Holmes asks whether more women leaders really help women. Five hundred years on, what does Thomas More’s “Utopia” tells us about political idealism. And Tristram Hunt on why Labour needs another Clement Attlee. Also in this issue: David Runciman on why more members isn’t always a good thing for a political party. Will Self on why we’re all turning into robots. Your handy graphic guide to Brexit. Plus: David Willetts on what Theresa May’s industrial strategy should look like. And Kenneth S Rogoff argues we should abolish cash.
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