Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two in one

Two of my favorite ideas, feedback and the importance of rent-seeking, made it into a book review at The Wall Street Journal. The book in question was asking why Great Britain was the first to industrialize.
Mr. Mokyr's answer—articulated in densely packed but gratifyingly lucid prose—is that in Britain ideas interacted vigorously with business interests in "a positive feedback loop that created the greatest sea change in economic history since the advent of culture."
The reason for Britain's exceptionalism, Mr. Mokyr says, lies in the increasing hostility to rent-seeking—the use of political power to redistribute rather than create wealth—among the country's most important intellectuals in the second half of the 18th century. Indeed, a host of liberal ideas, in the classic sense, took hold: the rejection of mercantilism's closed markets, the weakening of guilds and the expansion of internal free trade, and robust physical and intellectual property rights all put Britain far ahead of France, where violent revolution was needed to disrupt the privileges of the old regime.
Implicit in this argument is that countries that cannot develop are locked in a rent-seeking trap, and my limited knowledge of economic develop suggests that is a plausible argument. Unfortunately, rent seeking seems to be increasing in the U.S. If there a feedback loop in which rent-seeking in some way creates more rent seeking, then deep pessimism is in order.

(found via Newmarks Door.

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