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…

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…

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…

Why Were the Americas So Underdeveloped when Europeans Reached Them?

Mesopotamia at 1500 BC looks much like Mesoamerica at 1000 AD. The Eurasians had three thousand years to build upon their Mesopotamian foundations before the coming together of the New and Old Worlds. The Americans, by contrast, had only five hundred years…

Economic Ideology and the Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution changed the way that the English thought about their economy. The proponents of an economic ideology that justified the power of the landowners became less influential. The proponents of an ideology that emphasized the value of labour, and the role of manufacturing and trade in realizing this value, became more influential…

The Industrial Revolution

Britain experienced a period of rapid technological innovation during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The way in which work was done changed radically, and British goods rose to dominance in markets around the world…

The Steam Engine

The steam engine is generally considered to be the most revolutionary invention of the Industrial Revolution. It would power a new generation of industrial machinery; and it would give rise to two transportation technologies, railways and steamships, that would stitch the world together…