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Saving, Investment, Greed, and Original Accumulation Do Not Explain Growth

McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen (2009): Saving, Investment, Greed, and Original Accumulation Do Not Explain Growth.

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Abstract

Thrift was not the cause of the Industrial Revolution or its astonishing follow on. For one thing, every human society must practice thrift, and pre-industrial Europe, with its low yield-seed ratios, did so on a big scale. British thrift during the Industrial Revolution, for another, was rather below the European average. And for still another, savings is elastically supplied, by credit expansion for example (as Schumpeter observed). Attributing growth to investment, therefore, resembles attributing Shakespeare’s plays to the Roman alphabet: “necessary” in a reduced sense, but in fact an assumed background, not the cause in any useful sense. Certainly Europeans did not develop unusual greed, and the Catholics---in a society of bourgeois dignity and liberty---did as well as the Protestants (in Amsterdam, for example). Ben Franklin, for example, was not (as D. H. Lawrence portrayed him in a humorless reading of this most humorous man) “dry and utilitarian.” If capitalism accumulates “endlessly,” as many say, one wonder why Franklin give up accumulating at age 42. The evidence also does not support Marx’s notion of an “original accumulation of capital.” Saving and investment must be used when they are made, or they depreciate. They cannot accumulate from an age of piracy to an age of industry. Yet modern growth theory, unhappily, reinstates as initiating the theory of stages and, especially, capital accumulation. They are not initiating, whether in physical or human capital. Innovation 1700-2010 pushed the marginal product of all capitals steadily out, and the physical and human capital followed.

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