The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress

Joel Mokyr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBook

622 Scopus citations


In a world of supercomputers, genetic engineering, and fiber optics, technological creativity is ever more the key to economic success. But why are some nations more creative than others, and why do some highly innovative societies-such as ancient China, or Britain in the industrial revolution-pass into stagnation? Beginning with a history of technological progress, the book traces the major inventions and innovations that have transformed society since ancient Greece and Rome. What emerges from this survey is often surprising: the classical world, for instance, was largely barren of new technology; the relatively backward society of medieval Europe bristled with inventions; and the period between the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution was one of slow and unspectacular progress in technology, despite the tumultuous developments associated with the Voyages of Discovery and the Scientific Revolution. The author distinguishes between the relationship of inventors and their physical environment-which determined their willingness to challenge nature-and the social environment, which determined the openness to new ideas. He examines the differences between Europe and China, between classical antiquity and medieval Europe, and between Britain and the rest of Europe during the industrial revolution. The author also examines such aspects as the role of the state (the Chinese gave up a millennium-wide lead in shipping to the Europeans, for example, when an Emperor banned large ocean-going vessels), the impact of science, as well as religion, politics, and even nutrition. He questions the importance of such commonly cited factors as the spill-over benefits of war, the abundance of natural resources, life expectancy, and labor costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages360
ISBN (Electronic)9780199854981
ISBN (Print)0195074777, 9780195074772
StatePublished - Oct 3 2011


  • Economic success
  • Inventions
  • Physical environment
  • Progress
  • Social environment
  • Technological creativity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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