The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations is David S. Landes' acclaimed, best-selling exploration of one of the most contentious and hotly debated questions of our time: Why do some nations achieve economic success while others remain mired in poverty? The answer, as Landes definitively illustrates, is a complex interplay of cultural mores and historical circumstance. Rich with anecdotal evidence, piercing analysis, and a truly astonishing range of erudition, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations is a "picture of enormous sweep and brilliant insight" (Kenneth Arrow) as well as one of the most audaciously ambitious works of history in decades.
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|Listening Length||21 hours and 47 minutes|
|Author||David S. Landes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||July 27, 2021|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #49,264 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#55 in Economic Theory (Audible Books & Originals)
#112 in Economic History (Audible Books & Originals)
#334 in Theory of Economics
Top reviews from the United States
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This book of 525 pages would have been better buy if it was 350. What I expected was a discussion on why some nations are wealthy and others poor but the author did not even mention this until page 523 of 525 and then claimed it was not his job to provide answers It is a wordy text more designed to show the brilliance of the author than to grant insight..
While it's pretty obvious that the advance of technology has advanced the human race, the disparity between nations is clearly not the result of anything material. Singapore, with no resources is rich: Nigeria with an abundance is poor. The seminal question is: why? This book does not address that. There are also a number of easily challenged allegations, tossed off as fact, the most galling being that countries within a few thousand miles of the equator were too hot to develop, had disease and a drought/flood cycle, but we know of huge, powerful empires in the Amazon such as the Incas and powerful nations in Africa that flourished. Furthermore, air conditioning, medicine and reservoirs have solved those ancient problems, but still some countries that have all the resources to be rich are poor.
What we know about "why countries are poor" is that they have social and government systems that create poverty and degraded or non-existent capitalist systems that deter, defeat or de-incentivise personal gain. Wealthy nations have poured money into these places like into a black hole, thinking that the lack of money is the problem, whereas it is the lack of opportunity and the chance to benefit from one's efforts that count.
Otherwise well done. Keep a notepad to check things. Remember, this was written at the end of the last century (1999). Hindsight proves and disproves many thing here, but that aside, the basic assertions are solid.
This could serve as subtitle. Landes believes nations, people, groups create wealth or poverty.
Why holds this opinion?
“My aim in writing this book is to do world history. Not, however, in the multicultural, anthropological sense of intrinsic parity: all peoples are equal and the historian tries to attend to them all. Rather, I thought to trace and understand the main stream of economic advance and modernization: how have we come to where and what we are, in the sense of making, getting, and spending. That goal allows for more focus and less coverage.’’
And Landes does just that — ‘World History’ indeed! Even though he focused on the west, I learned much about Latin America, China, Japan, Thailand, Islam, etc., that was just . . . fascinating!
However, Landes is a historian, not an economist. So the lessons are developed from hundreds of detailed stories. Interesting, provocative, insightful.
For example . . . Why did fewer Jews die from disease? Poisoning Christian well water?
“The answer was found, not in changed religious belief or doctrine, but in industrial innovation. The principal product of the new technology that we know as the Industrial Revolution was cheap, washable cotton; and along with it mass-produced soap made of vegetable oils. For the first time, the common man could afford underwear, once known as body linen because that was the washable fabric that the well-to-do wore next to their skin. He (or she) could wash with soap and even bathe, although too much bathing was seen as a sign of dirtiness. Why would clean people have to wash so often? No matter. Personal hygiene changed drastically, so that commoners of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century often lived cleaner than the kings and queens of a century earlier.’’
This change to cotton underwear seems so banal. Yet, probably increased female fertility, reduced bladder infections, etc,. Explains high demand for cotton and start in industrial revolution with cotton factories.
Who would have thought? History. What influence continues?
“Advances in medicine and hygiene exemplify a much larger phenomenon: the gains from the application of knowledge and science to technology. These give us reason to be hopeful about the problems that cloud present and future. They even encourage us toward fantasies of eternal life or, better yet, eternal youth.’’
Or, ‘science’ can stop a pandemic cold. ‘Eternal youth to eternal life’!
“I propose to approach these problems historically. I do so because I am a historian by training and temperament, and in difficult matters of this kind, it is best to do what one knows and does best. But I do so also because the best way to understand a problem is to ask: How and why did we get where we are? How did the rich countries get so rich? Why are the poor countries so poor? Why did Europe take the lead in changing the world?’’
Asking good questions leads to better answers.
“That still leaves the moral issue. Some would say that Eurocentrism is bad for us, indeed bad for the world, hence to be avoided. Those people should avoid it. As for me, I prefer truth to goodthink. I feel surer of my ground.’’
‘Truth over popularity’. And he does!
1 Nature’s Inequalities
2. Answers to Geography: Europe and China
3. European Exceptionalism: A Different Path
4. The Invention of Invention
5. The Great Opening
6. Eastward Ho!
7. From Discoveries to Empire
8. Bittersweet Isles
9. Empire in the East
10. For Love of Gain
12. Winners and Losers: The Balance Sheet of Empire
13. The Nature of Industrial Revolution
14. Why Europe? Why Then?
15. Britain and the Others
16. Pursuit of Albion
17. You Need Money to Make Money
18. The Wealth of Knowledge
20. The South American Way
21. Celestial Empire: Stasis and Retreat
22. Japan: And the Last Shall Be First
23. The Meiji Restoration
24. History Gone Wrong?
25. Empire and After
26. Loss of Leadership
27. Winners and…
29. How Did We Get Here? Where Are We Going?
Property and property rights provide foundation to build economic success and remove failure. Why did the ‘west’ enshrine legal property rights? One reason . . .
“The concept of property rights went back to biblical times and was transmitted and transformed by Christian teaching. The Hebrew hostility to avitocracy, even their own, was formed in Egypt and the desert. Let me cite two examples, where the response to popular initiative is directly linked to the sanctity of possessions. When the priest Korach leads a revolt against Moses in the desert, Moses defends himself against charges of usurpation by saying, “I have not taken one ass from them, nor have I wronged any one of them” (Numbers 16:15).’’
Moses respected personal property. Legal rights.
“Similarly, when the Israelites call for a king, the prophet Samuel grants their wish but warns them of the consequences: a king, he tells them, will not be like him. “Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken?” (I Samuel 12:3).’’
Idea being, God’s prophet doesn’t take others property.
“This tradition, which set the Israelites apart from any of the kingdoms around and surely did much to earn them the hostility of nearby rulers—who needs such troublemakers?—tended to get lost in Christianity when that community of faith became a church, especially once that Church became the official, privileged religion of an autocratic empire.’’
“One cannot well bite the hand that funds. Besides, the word was not getting out, for the Church early decided that only qualified people, certain clerics for example, should know the Bible. The Good Book, with its egalitarian laws and morals, its prophetic rebukes of power and exaltation of the humble, invited indiscipline among the faithful and misunderstanding with the secular authorities. Only after censorship and edulcoration could it be communicated to the laity. So that it was not until the appearance of such heretical sects as the Waldensians (Waldo, c. 1175), the Lollards (Wiclif, c. 1376), Lutherans (1519 on), and Calvinists (mid-sixteenth), with their emphasis on personal religion and the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, that this Judaic-Christian tradition entered explicitly into the European political consciousness, by way of reminding rulers that they held their wealth and power of God, and then on condition of good behavior. An inconvenient doctrine.’’
Remember — wealth wasn’t produced until 1800’s. Bible truth powerful.
Another example . . .
“Records show that Protestant merchants and manufacturers played a leading role in trade, banking, and industry. In manufacturing centers in France and western Germany, Protestants were typically the employers, Catholics the employed. In Switzerland, the Protestant cantons were the centers of export manufacturing industry; the Catholic ones were primarily agricultural. In England, which by the end of the sixteenth century was overwhelmingly Protestant, the Dissenters (read Calvinists) were disproportionately active and influential in the factories and forges of the nascent Industrial Revolution.’’
Why these bible readers so different?
“The heart of the matter lay indeed in the making of a new kind of man—rational, ordered, diligent, productive. These virtues, while not new, were hardly commonplace. Protestantism generalized them among its adherents, who judged one another by conformity to these standards. This is a story in itself, one that Weber did surprisingly little with: the role of group pressure and mutual scrutiny in assuring performance—everybody looking at everyone else and minding one another’s business. Two special characteristics of the Protestants reflect and confirm this link. The first was stress on instruction and literacy, for girls as well as boys. This was a by-product of Bible reading. Good Protestants were expected to read the holy scriptures for themselves. (By way of contrast, Catholics were catechized but did not have to read, and they were explicitly discouraged from reading the Bible.) The result: greater literacy and a larger pool of candidates for advanced schooling; also greater assurance of continuity of literacy from generation to generation. Literate mothers matter.’’
Not the only scholar to reach this conclusion.
Because Landes thinks culture, ideas, traditions, beliefs cause wealth or poverty; he ends this book with Moses . . .
“ . . . I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life.’’
This work shoes tremendous research, overwhelming scholarship and depth of understanding. Nevertheless, easy to listen or read. I’ve done both. I found the audio book wonderful. Exceptional vocal presentation. (In fact, looked to find other audible books from this reader. He was that good.)
Hundreds and hundreds of notes (linked)
Hundreds and hundreds of references in bibliography
Work deserves ten stars!
Top reviews from other countries
The work becomes more diffuse and uncertain in tone in its closing chapters; perhaps this is to be expected in what is basically a work of economic history rather than prognosis. Among the many topics reviewed in this work, the following struck me of being of particular interest: how climate and
geography present challenges and obstacles to economic development; the corrupting effect of unearned wealth on a state (Spain's squandering of its gold and silver wealth form the Americas; compare the misuse of oil wealth today); the complex factors that gave rise to the industrial revolution in Britain and not elsewhere; the different and unexpected outcomes of the post-colonial world.
Throughout the book advocates a free, undogmatic and enterprising spirit that must be undergirded by the rule of law and confidence in trustworthy financial institutions - something that has taken a blow in recent years. A follow-up to this excellent work which examines the causes and
consequences of the Global Financial Crisis, the digital age, the mergence of crony-capitalist China, and gathering doubts about globalisation would be very welcome.