cover image The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality

The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality

Oded Galor. Dutton, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-18599-5

The deep forces underlying human advancement are limned in this probing study of economic development. Brown University economist Galor (Discrete Dynamical Systems) proposes a “unified growth theory” to explain how countries escaped from an age-old Malthusian cycle, in which fitful technological advancements promoted higher birth rates and then overpopulation and a retreat in living standards to dire poverty, to the modern regime of rapid, permanent improvements in technology, wealth, and health. He argues that the sluggish premodern growth of population and technology sparked a “phase transition” to the Industrial Revolution, creating a demand for skilled labor that led parents to have fewer children and spend more on their education, which in turn stimulated more innovation and growth in a virtuous circle. Exploring the roots of present-day economic inequalities between countries, Galor chalks them up to better or worse political institutions and environmental conditions, as well as the presence of “future-oriented mindsets” of hard work and thrift, and a society’s level (moderate, ideally) of ethnic diversity. In lucid, accessible prose, Galor ingeniously traces obscure influences over centuries, contending, for instance, that areas close to Martin Luther’s headquarters of Wittenberg, Germany, have higher modern-day educational attainment because of the early Protestant emphasis on Bible-reading. This engrossing history reveals that subtle causes can have astounding effects. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM Partners. (Mar.)