The History of Material Well-Being

At any time earlier than about 1000 AD, the material standard of living of almost every person was close to the minimum needed to sustain life. Societies in which the majority of the people attained a significantly higher standard of living have emerged only within the last two or three hundred years…

Growth that Makes Us Richer and Growth that Doesn’t

Economists distinguish between two kinds of growth, extensive and intensive. Extensive growth raises a nation’s total output, but doesn’t make the populace better off and can easily make it worse off. Intensive growth, on the other hand, raises the average person’s standard of living…

Malthus on Population and Human Welfare

A continuously rising standard of living would have been an alien concept to anyone living in Europe (or anywhere else) before 1500. People lived and worked much as their parents and grandparents had, and most of them produced food…

Civilization and Disease

Humans are an environmental niche, and organisms arise through mutation to populate it. The survival of a colonizing organism depends upon its ability to adapt to the human body, and upon the body’s ability to adapt to it…

Property Rights and Growth

North and Thomas argue that the establishment and enforcement of property rights has been a major cause of economic growth. A person who has property rights over a particular resource has the right to control it and use it as he pleases. Property rights are determined in part by law and in part by social conventions…

Feudalism

Feudalism was the economic and political system of Europe during the Middle Ages. One might be tempted to dismiss it as a primitive system, discarded when something better came along, but to do so would be to misunderstand human institutions…

The End of Feudalism

Custom played such a large role in governing feudal institutions that they were resistant to change. Feudalism could only be shaken by substantial changes to the external environment, and those changes finally came…

The Emergence of European States

From the fall of the Roman Empire until at least 1100 AD, there was nothing in Europe that could be called a state. States emerged in England and France over the period 1100-1300, and later in other parts of Europe. They showed early signs of constitutional government, but some countries veered towards authoritarianism under the financial stress of the fifteenth-century military revolution…

Why was Science Successful in Europe?

In the time between the Scientific Revolution and World War II, almost every major advance in modern science was made by scientists who were culturally European…