The Enlightened Economy:
Britain and the Industrial Revolution 1700-1850

Joel Mokyr

Penguin 2009
A book review by Danny Yee © 2019
The Enlightened Economy is a sweeping overview of Britain's economy and the changes it underwent during the Industrial Revolution, built around a central argument that that was driven by the Enlightenment. Not by specific scientific advances or technological innovations, Mokyr argues, but by the general notion of progress which took hold, and which influenced thinking in a broad range of areas.

After an opening description of the Britsh economy in 1700, four chapters present this core thesis, looking at the Enlightenment, useful knowledge and technology, political economy, and the broad influence of the Enlightenment on the Industrial Revolution.

"The Industrial Revolution must be understood in the light of its intellectual and institutional background as much as in the light of its economics. Whether one chooses to think of the Enlightenment as a cultural watershed or in terms of continuity, there can be little doubt that the preceding changes in the mental world of the British economic and technological elite were the background of the Industrial Revolution. New modes of thinking fell upon the fertile ground of a society in which opportunities to innovate and succeed in business had been increasingly a key to personal prosperity. The changing intellectual environment, above all, created communications between those who knew things and those who made things."

The remaining chapters keep this thesis in mind, but quite broadly survey other aspects of the economy — technological leadership, technological change, foreign trade, agriculture, commerce and transport, finance, productivity, demographic changes, gender and family, factories and firms, social norms, the state and the economy, and living standards and inequality — before ending with an overview of the British economy in 1850.

This is impossible to summarise, a magisterial condensation of a huge amount of detail and insights into both underlying structures and patterns of change. The Enlightened Economy makes a convincing argument for Mokyr's thesis, and made me rethink my understanding of the Industrial Revolution.

March 2019

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%T The Enlightened Economy
%S Britain and the Industrial Revolution 1700-1850
%A Mokyr, Joel
%I Penguin
%D 2009
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN-13 9780140278170
%P 564pp