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“Editor’s Introduction to The New Economic History and the Industrial Revolution,” J. Mokyr (1998) | A Fine Theorem
I taught a fun three hours on the Industrial Revolution in my innovation PhD course this week. The absolutely incredible change in the condition of mankind that began in a tiny corner of Europe in an otherwise unremarkable 70-or-so years is totally fascinating. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath are so important to human history that I find it strange that we give people PhDs in social science without requiring at least some study of what happened.

My post today draws heavily on Joel Mokyr’s lovely, if lengthy, summary of what we know about the period. You really should read the whole thing, but if you know nothing about the IR, there are really five facts of great importance which you should be aware of.

1) The world was absurdly poor from the dawn of mankind until the late 1800s, everywhere.
2) The average person did not become richer, nor was overall economic growth particularly spectacular, during the Industrial Revolution; indeed, wages may have fallen between 1760 and 1830.
3) Major macro inventions, and growth, of the type seen in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s happened many times in human history.
4) It is hard for us today to understand how revolutionary ideas like “experimentation” or “probability” were.
5) The best explanations for “why England? why in the late 1700s? why did growth continue?” do not involve colonialism, slavery, or famous inventions.
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8 days ago by nhaliday
Benedict Evans on Twitter: ""University can save you from the autodidact tendency to overrate himself. Democracy depends on people who know they don’t know everything.""
“The autodidact’s risk is that they think they know all of medieval history but have never heard of Charlemagne” - Umberto Eco

Facts are the least part of education. The structure and priorities they fit into matters far more, and learning how to learn far more again
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17 days ago by nhaliday
All models are wrong - Wikipedia
Box repeated the aphorism in a paper that was published in the proceedings of a 1978 statistics workshop.[2] The paper contains a section entitled "All models are wrong but some are useful". The section is copied below.

Now it would be very remarkable if any system existing in the real world could be exactly represented by any simple model. However, cunningly chosen parsimonious models often do provide remarkably useful approximations. For example, the law PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an "ideal" gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.

For such a model there is no need to ask the question "Is the model true?". If "truth" is to be the "whole truth" the answer must be "No". The only question of interest is "Is the model illuminating and useful?".
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7 weeks ago by nhaliday
A sense of where you are | West Hunter
Nobody at the Times noticed it at first. I don’t know that they ever did notice it by themselves- likely some reader brought it to their attention. But this happens all the time, because very few people have a picture of the world in their head that includes any numbers. Mostly they don’t even have a rough idea of relative size.

In much the same way, back in the 1980s,lots of writers were talking about 90,000 women a year dying of anorexia nervosa, another impossible number. Then there was the great scare about 1,000,000 kids being kidnapped in the US each year – also impossible and wrong. Practically all the talking classes bought into it.

You might think that the people at the top are different – but with a few exceptions, they’re just as clueless.
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may 2017 by nhaliday

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