meR is a sociologist’s dream: to surpass Adam Smith, Max Weber and Karl Marx and come up with a unified theory about why society has developed as it is, where it is heading next and how its mistakes can be corrected. At times, while reading Oded Galore’s optimistic book, I thought he had decoded it, being surprised by his imagination and liveliness. For example, it was once clear that agricultural economies based on the plow necessarily reduce the role of women in the broader economic and social life because plows need masculine muscles, which results in women taking on household duties rather than sharing duties in fields where the soil is easier . for work. What Galore has shown is that this gender division of labor persists across generations, even in countries to which people using tillage migrate. It is nothing if not original.
But in the end, fulfilling the dream of explaining everything is a very high demand, even for an economist from the Galore Group. He is so devoted to the subtle, long-term impulses that define our destiny — geography, climate, diversity, the ability to be future-oriented, the role of education, the rights and wrongs of Malthusian economics — that he neglects what is entirely opinion. An account that purports to describe the journey of mankind without dealing with why some innovations—such as the three-masted sailing ship, the printing press, or the computer—changed civilization while others are more ordinary, can only be incomplete. These “general purpose technologies” not only have diverse origins, he argues, but also require an extraordinary interaction between state finance, large markets, cultural readiness, and capitalist organization to take off. The printing press was not only the result of Gutenberg’s living on the Rhine, as trade routes from various regions brought inventions and ideas: it also needed Protestant princes to finance prototypes and purchase printing presses, and then exploded a religiously motivated appetite for publishing. The Gospels, Hymns, and Homilies on the Reformation in Europe.
Indeed, Galore devotes little of his book to capitalism, the structure of states and the consequent dynamic interdependence between the public and private sectors, or the importance of Enlightenment values that unleashed notions of the public sphere and the rule of law. These are massive omissions. It’s a technocratic journey full of enlightening charts, yet strangely bloodless and neglecting political economy in explaining humanity’s journey.
With that said, there are large sections of Galore’s book that are commendable. Rejected by mainstream economics now as an intriguing freak, Galore revived him as the man who correctly saw that for thousands of years humanity had been trapped by its subsistence fertility, famine, and starvation. As soon as material matters improved, the birth rate rose, and so did the population, the pressure on food resources exploded – and humanity returned to famine. Incredibly, these wages showed Malthusian influences, as they extensively purchased the same amount of food from the Assyrian Empire, through the Romans and even on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.
Galore argues that what has broken Malthus’ arm over the fate of mankind is the gradual acceleration of the introduction of technologies that require mass education to successfully implement. This has led to a virtuous cycle of more innovation, more investment in education, and more need to invest in quality rather than quantity, so that birth rates have fallen enough to allow for higher standards of living and life expectancy. Because it now makes more sense to invest in educating children rather than employing them, child labor and exploitation have all but vanished.
Above all, it shows how cultural attitudes persist so long after whatever sequence of events has created that countries and cultures that advance tend to stay ahead. He is very critical of the shock programs to liberalize the market that accompanied the “Washington Consensus”, ignorant of these enduring features. Effective market economies cannot be built automatically in cultures hostile to the concept itself.
However, his optimism about humanity shines through – an appreciation for its diversity, a commitment to educating its children and they will find their way to innovate and create a culture of growth. It’s a great way to look at the world, but a proper recognition that power, capitalism, finance, the existence and structure of states and general philosophies – some right, some wrong – are all part of the drink would have made his account more realistic. Sad to say they would have tempered their optimism. Mankind, Kant said, is made of crooked wood from which nothing can be made perfectly straight. Galore’s book would have been the strongest if it had left the sun’s rays with some shadows.