Industrialisation and the origins of modern prosperity: evidence from the United States in the 19th century

The Long Run

by Ori Katz (Tel Aviv University)

Aertsen,_Pieter_-_Market_Scene.jpg Wiki Commons. Market scene by Pieter Aertsen, c.1550

The largest economic mystery is the modern prosperity of humankind. For thousands of years since the Neolithic revolution, most humans lived in small communities, working as farmers, and their average standard of living did not change much.

But in the nineteenth century, things changed: large parts of the world become industrialised. In those parts, people moved to live in huge cities, where they worked in manufacturing and commerce, had fewer children, invested more in schooling, and their standard of living began to rise, and then to rise dramatically, and it has never stopped since. Whether you look at life expectancy, birth fatality, income per person or any other measure, the trend is the same. And we don’t really know why.

We have a lot of theories. Some believe that this dramatic change has something to do…

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