A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr
  • Title: A Culture of Growth
  • Subtitle: The Origins of the Modern Economy
  • Author(s): Joel Mokyr
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Year: 2018
  • ISBN-10: 0691180962
  • ISBN-13: 9780691180960


“A Culture of Growth” by Joel Mokyr delves into the profound question of why some societies throughout history have experienced remarkable economic growth, while others have stagnated or declined. Mokyr, a respected economic historian, argues that cultural factors play a pivotal role in driving economic progress. By analyzing the cultural beliefs, practices, institutions, and ideas that have shaped societies over centuries, Mokyr explores how certain cultures have fostered innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship, leading to sustained economic development.

Mokyr’s analysis is comprehensive and thought-provoking, as he examines the role of factors such as religion, education, trust, and social structure in cultivating a culture of growth. He argues that societies that embrace new ideas, intellectual freedom, and scientific progress tend to prosper, while those that reject change or cling to outdated beliefs hinder their own economic advancement. With an extensive range of historical examples and data, Mokyr provides a compelling narrative that reveals the intricate relationship between culture and economic growth, allowing readers to reflect on the past and consider its implications for the future.

Book Review

“A Culture of Growth” by Joel Mokyr is an engaging and enlightening exploration of how culture shapes economic outcomes throughout history. As a seasoned economic historian, Mokyr presents a comprehensive analysis of the multifaceted factors responsible for driving economic growth in certain societies while others languish. The book provides valuable insights into the role of culture in shaping institutional structures, technological progress, and innovation, ultimately fostering long-term economic prosperity.

Mokyr begins by highlighting the significance of cultural beliefs and attitudes in promoting economic growth. He argues that societies rooted in beliefs that value individualism, education, and the pursuit of knowledge have exhibited sustained economic development. One example he provides is the influence of Protestantism in Western Europe during the Reformation, where the emphasis on individual salvation and the work ethic led to increased labor productivity and ultimately contributed to the Industrial Revolution.

Throughout the book, Mokyr delves into the pivotal role of institutions and their interaction with culture. For instance, he examines the cultural practices and institutions that shaped cities in ancient Greece and early modern Europe, showing how the development of effective legal systems, property rights, and market mechanisms played a vital role in stimulating commerce and economic growth. He also explores the cultural norms that influenced the formation and operation of guilds, illustrating how these organizations in Medieval Europe facilitated knowledge diffusion, skills development, and technological progress.

Mokyr’s extensive use of historical examples adds depth and credibility to his arguments. He draws upon the experiences of various societies, ranging from ancient civilizations like Rome and China to more recent examples like the United Kingdom and the United States. One noteworthy example is the Enlightenment era, where cultural shifts in Europe led to a surge in intellectual freedom and scientific progress. This intellectual renaissance, Mokyr argues, laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution and subsequent waves of technological advancements.

Additionally, Mokyr highlights the importance of cultural attitudes towards risk and uncertainty in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. He explores how cultures that embrace experimentation, intellectual curiosity, and tolerance towards failure tend to flourish economically. The author supports this assertion with examples from the Dutch Golden Age and the cultural environment that facilitated the development of institutions such as the Dutch East India Company and the Amsterdam Stock Exchange.

Overall, “A Culture of Growth” provides a captivating and well-researched exploration of the intricate relationship between culture and economic progress. Mokyr’s extensive knowledge and thorough analysis make this book accessible to both scholars and general readers with an interest in economic history and development. Through a combination of historical examples, theoretical frameworks, and empirical evidence, Mokyr successfully conveys his message that cultural beliefs, practices, and institutions significantly impact economic outcomes. This thought-provoking book encourages readers to reflect on the importance of culture as a driving force behind economic growth and to consider its implications for the future.

Word Count: 475

Target Audience

The book “A Culture of Growth” by Joel Mokyr is targeted at a diverse audience interested in economic history, cultural studies, and the relationship between culture and economic development. The book is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • Economic Historians and Scholars Mokyr’s extensive research, deep understanding of economic history, and scholarly approach make this book a valuable resource for individuals interested in studying and researching the factors influencing economic growth throughout history. The book provides a comprehensive analysis and theoretical framework that can contribute to further academic discussions.

  • Policy Makers and Social Scientists For policymakers and social scientists concerned with promoting economic development and understanding the drivers of growth, “A Culture of Growth” offers important insights. Mokyr’s exploration of cultural factors and their impact on institutions, technology, and innovation contributes to a better understanding of how policy decisions can shape a nation’s economic trajectory.

  • Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs The book offers valuable lessons for business leaders and entrepreneurs in understanding the role of culture in fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and long-term success. Mokyr’s analysis of historical examples and cultural attitudes towards risk and uncertainty can provide valuable insights for those seeking to navigate the dynamic business landscape.

  • General Readers Interested in History and Culture “A Culture of Growth” presents a compelling narrative that appeals to general readers interested in history, culture, and societal development. Mokyr’s accessible writing style and use of engaging historical examples make the book an enjoyable and educational read, shedding light on the complex interplay between culture and economic growth.

In conclusion, “A Culture of Growth” is recommended reading as it offers a valuable and comprehensive analysis of the relationship between culture and economic development throughout history. It appeals to a broad range of audiences, including scholars, policymakers, business leaders, and general readers, and provides insights that can shape our understanding of the cultural factors that drive economic progress.