Periods of progress
Periods of progress: An economic historian scans two pivotal centuries to trace down the foundations of modern economy...
A Culture of Growth is a book of immense importance for us Indians especially when we are getting comfortable, forever playing victim to the depredations of British imperialism instead of wholeheartedly focusing on beating the West at its game as the Chinese are doing. Truth be told, it was a decadent sub- continent that the British overwhelmed. We had none of the governance systems or imperial organisation, that sustained China over centuries.
If only we reflect a bit, we cannot but admit that it took a William Jones to make us aware of the treasures we held in our ancient texts and, but for John Prinsep, it is very possible we may never have known how great Ashoka really was. And, lest we forget, it was under the British that India and the Himalayas were mapped with great accuracy, and Mortimer Wheeler excavated a great civilisation to our West we knew nothing about till then. For all their faults, we must thank the British for rescuing us from medieval obscurantism and forcibly propelling us into the modern age.
In the period that Mokyr focuses on in his book (1500-1700 CE), a big Empire formed and declined in India without leaving behind a single institution to show for the time it was around. This was unlike Europe which had several trade guilds that set standards and monitored quality of manufacturing as well as the Royal Society in London and its many counterparts in France and elsewhere in the continent that focused on science and technology; most of these survive to this day. This profound work would have been a wonderful read if it wasn’t so dense’ and distractingly academic. Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization and Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest are works of scholarship too. Both cover much of the ground Mokyr does, and are easy reads. It will be useful to go through either of them before tackling — and it is well worth tackling — A Culture of Growth."