Saturday, February 19, 2011

Niall Ferguson: How the West Won

(Or perhaps a more appropriate title would be How the West Got There First). Niall Ferguson, a historian's look at why the West developed so much faster than the rest of the world. He argues that it was for 6 primary reasons (Spectator via Paul Kedrosky):

  1. Competition: a decentralisation of political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation states and capitalism.

  2. Science: a way of understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest.

  3. Property rights: the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government.

  4. Medicine: a branch of science that allowed a major improvement in health and life expectancy, beginning in Western societies, but also in their colonies.

  5. The consumer society: a mode of material living in which the production and purchase of clothing and other consumer goods play a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable.

  6. The work ethic: a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity, which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by the application of 1 to 5”

I think this explanation is more complicated than necessary as property rights and rule of law can spur such things as medicine and consumption while providing the incentives for a strong work ethic. I prefer Brink Lindsey's explanation.

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