Joel Mokyr

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Joel Mokyr
Joel Mokyr.png
Born (1946-07-26) 26 July 1946 (age 75)
NationalityIsraeli American
Spouse(s)Margalit Mokyr
AwardsHeineken Award for History (2006)
Balzan Prize (2015)
Academic background
Alma materYale University
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Doctoral advisorWilliam N. Parker
John C. H. Fei
Academic work
DisciplineEconomic history
InstitutionsNorthwestern University
Doctoral studentsAvner Greif[2]
Main interestsEconomic history of Europe
InfluencedCormac Ó Gráda[3]

Joel Mokyr (born 26 July 1946) is a Netherlands-born American-Israeli economic historian. He is a professor of economics and history at Northwestern University, where he has taught since 1974; in 1994 he was named the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences. He is also a Sackler Professorial Fellow at the University of Tel Aviv's Eitan Berglas School of Economics.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Mokyr was born in Leiden, Netherlands. His father, a civil servant, and his mother were Dutch Jews who survived the Holocaust. His father died of cancer when Mokyr was one year old, so he was raised by his mother in Haifa, Israel.[5]

Mokyr earned a B.A. in economics and history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1968. He earned an M.Phil. in economics in 1972 and a Ph.D. in economics in 1974, both from Yale University. His dissertation was about "Industrial Growth and Stagnation in the Low Countries, 1800-1850" and was supervised by William N. Parker.[4]


After completing his Ph.D. at Yale University, Mokyr began working at Northwestern University in 1974.[5] Since then, he has been chair or co-chair for over 50 doctoral student theses.[6] A former editor of the Journal of Economic History and President of the Economic History Association, he served as the editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History.[7]

He continues to serve as editor-in-chief of a book series published by Princeton University Press, The Princeton University Press Economic History of the Western World.[8] A former chair of the Economics Department and President of the Economic History Association, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a number of comparable institutions in Europe.[citation needed] He also serves as editor of the Essays in Economic & Business History.

He became a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.[9] In 2006, he was awarded the biennial Heineken Award for History by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[10] He won the 2015 Balzan International Prize for economic history.[11]


Industrial Revolution[edit]

Mokyr posits that the Industrial Revolution was the result of culture and institutions.[12] He argues that the root of modernity is in "the emergence of a belief in the usefulness of progress", and that "it was a turning point when intellectuals started to conceive of knowledge as cumulative".[13]

Mokyr furthermore argues that political fragmentation (the presence of a large number of European states) made it possible for heterodox ideas to thrive, as entrepreneurs, innovators, ideologues, and heretics could easily flee to a neighbouring state in the event that the one state would try to suppress their ideas and activities. This is what set Europe apart from the technologically advanced, large unitary empires such as China and India. China had both a printing press and movable type, and India had similar levels scientific and technological achievement as Europe in 1700, yet the Industrial Revolution would occur in Europe, not China or India. In Europe, political fragmentation was coupled with an "integrated market for ideas" where Europe's intellectuals used the lingua franca of Latin, had a shared intellectual basis in Europe's classical heritage and the pan-European institution of the Republic of Letters.[14]

A Culture of Growth[edit]

Mokyr presents his explanations for the Industrial Revolution in the 2016 book A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy. The book has received positive reviews. Deirdre McCloskey described it as a "brilliant book... It’s long, but consistently interesting, even witty. It sustains interest right down to page 337... The book is not beach reading. But you will finish it impressively learned about how we got to where we are in the modern world."[15] In her review, McCloskey furthermore lauded Mokyr as a "Nobel-worthy economic scientist".[15]

In a review published in Nature, Brad DeLong found that while he favored other explanations for the Industrial Revolution, "I would not be greatly surprised if I were wrong, and Mokyr's brief...turned out to be the most broadly correct analysis...A Culture of Growth is certainly making me rethink."[16]

Cambridge economic historian Victoria Bateman wrote, "In pointing to growth-boosting factors that go beyond either the state or the market, Mokyr's book is very welcome. It could also feed into discussions about the scientific community post-Brexit. By reviving the focus on culture it will, however, prove controversial, particularly among economists.[17] However, a fine definitional distinction is to be considered between the ″culture as ideas, socially learned" and ″culture as inheritance transmitted genetically". This Economist article makes the distinction clear.[18] The book has also been reviewed favorably by Diane Coyle,[19] Peer Vries,[20] Mark Koyama,[21] Enrico Spolaore,[22] and The Economist.[23] Geoffrey Hodgson criticized the book for placing "too much explanatory weight" on "too few extraordinary people."[24]

Resistance to new technologies[edit]

Mokyr outlined three reasons why societies resist new technologies:

  • Incumbents who fear a threat to their power and economic rents
  • Concern about broader social and political repercussions ("unintended ripple effects")
  • Risk and loss aversion: new technologies often have "unanticipated and unknowable consequences"

"These three motives often merge and create powerful forces that use political power and persuasion to thwart innovations. As a result, technological progress does not follow a linear and neat trajectory. It is, as social constructionists have been trying to tell us for decades, a profoundly political process."[25]


  • "Being teleological is the second worst thing you can be as a Historian. The worst is being Eurocentric."



  • 1976: Industrialization in the Low Countries, 1795–1850
  • 1983: Why Ireland Starved: An Analytical and Quantitative Study of Irish Poverty, 1800–1851
  • 1985: The Economics of the Industrial Revolution (ed.)
  • 1990: Twenty Five Centuries of Technological Change: An Historical Survey
  • 1990: The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress
    • Review article: "The Great Conundrum", The Journal of Modern History Vol 62, No. 1, March 1990
  • 1991: The Vital One: Essays in Honor of Jonathan Hughes (ed.)
  • 1993: The British Industrial Revolution: an Economic Perspective (ed.)
  • 2002: The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy
  • 2003: The Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of Economic History (Editor in chief)
  • 2009: The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times (Co-editor)
  • 2009: The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700–1850
  • 2010: The Birth of Modern Europe: Culture and Economy, 1400–1800: Essay in Honor of Jan de Vries(co-editor with Laura Cruz)
  • 2016: A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy
  • 2017: Economics in the Test of Time: Issues in Economic History (with Amira Ofer), in Hebrew, 2 volumes.
  • TBA: Why Britain? A new view of the Industrial Revolution. With Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda
  • TBA: Two Paths to Prosperity: Culture and Institutions in Europe and China, 1200-2000. With Avner Greif and Guido Tabellini


  1. ^ "The Gifts of Athena" (PDF). Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  2. ^ Greif, Avner (1991). "The Organization of Long-Distance Trade: Reputation and Coalitions in the Geniza Documents and Genoa During the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries". Journal of Economic History. 51 (2): 459. doi:10.1017/S0022050700039097.
  3. ^ de Bromhead, Alan (Winter 2017). "An Interview with Cormac Ó Gráda" (PDF). The Newsletter of the Cliometric Society. 31 (2): 20–23. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-07-24. Retrieved 2018-01-27.
  4. ^ a b "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Northwestern University. June 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b Aeppel, Timothy. "Economists Debate: Has All the Important Stuff Already Been Invented?". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b; accessed 31 August 2021
  7. ^ Joel Mokyr (16 October 2003). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History (5Vols). Oxford University Press on Demand. ISBN 978-0-19-510507-0.
  8. ^ Princeton Economic History of the Western World Archived 1 November 2009 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 8 September 2009.
  9. ^ "Joël Mokyr". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 13 February 2016. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  10. ^ "Joel Mokyr (1946), USA". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 22 July 2020.
  11. ^ "Joel Mokyr". Northwestern University. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  12. ^ Mokyr, Joel (1 June 2005). "The Intellectual Origins of Modern Economic Growth". The Journal of Economic History. 65 (2): 285–351. doi:10.1017/S0022050705000112. ISSN 1471-6372.
  13. ^ Mokyr, Joel. "Progress Isn't Natural". The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  14. ^ "Mokyr, J.: A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Economic history: ideas that built the world". Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  16. ^ DeLong, Brad (27 October 2016). "Economic history: The roots of growth". Nature. 538 (7626): 456–57. Bibcode:2016Natur.538..456D. doi:10.1038/538456a. ISSN 0028-0836.
  17. ^ "A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, by Joel Mokyr". Times Higher Education. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Cultural change can unlock the economic potential of people and ideas". The Economist. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  19. ^ "Subscribe to read". Retrieved 11 March 2017. Cite uses generic title (help)
  20. ^ Vries, Peer (10 December 2016). "The Culture of Capitalism". Foreign Affairs. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  21. ^ "Book Review: A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, by Joel Mokyr". The Independent Institute. Retrieved 2017-12-11.
  22. ^ Spolaore, Enrico (2020). "Commanding Nature by Obeying Her: A Review Essay on Joel Mokyr's A Culture of Growth". Journal of Economic Literature. 58 (3): 777–792. doi:10.1257/jel.20191460. ISSN 0022-0515.
  23. ^ "The role of ideas in the "great divergence"". The Economist. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  24. ^ Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (2021). "Culture and institutions: a review of Joel Mokyr's A Culture of Growth". Journal of Institutional Economics. doi:10.1017/S1744137421000588. ISSN 1744-1374.
  25. ^ "Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies". Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  26. ^ Joel Mokyr, Curriculum Vitae,; accessed 12 January 2016.

External links[edit]

  • Profile,; accessed 21 January 2016.