Bottom-up or top-down? The origins of the Industrial Revolution

Joel Mokyr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Was technological progress during and after the Industrial Revolution top-down or bottom-up? The technology that created the great inventions was driven by a combination of pathbreaking ideas and the dexterity and skills of trained artisans. While those forms of human capital were quite different, they both came out of small elites of intellectuals and craftsmen, what are rapidly becoming known as upper-tail human capital. I analyze the institutions that drove the incentives for both, and show that they came together to produce the Great Enrichment. These incentives were both material and social: between 1500 and 1700, the search for financial security and reputation cooperated in producing a unique institutional environment in which the elites in Western Europe produced the three legged-stool of European modernity: the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment. Once these three movements had succeeded, the foundation for modern economic growth had been laid.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1024
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018


FundersFunder number
Fondazione Internazionale Premio Balzan


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