Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery

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9780393059960: Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery
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A stimulating and inviting tour of modern economics centered on the story of one of its most important breakthroughs.

In 1980, the twenty-four-year-old graduate student Paul Romer tackled one of the oldest puzzles in economics. Eight years later he solved it. This book tells the story of what has come to be called the new growth theory: the paradox identified by Adam Smith more than two hundred years earlier, its disappearance and occasional resurfacing in the nineteenth century, the development of new technical tools in the twentieth century, and finally the student who could see further than his teachers.

Fascinating in its own right, new growth theory helps to explain dominant first-mover firms like IBM or Microsoft, underscores the value of intellectual property, and provides essential advice to those concerned with the expansion of the economy. Like James Gleick's Chaos or Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, this revealing book takes us to the frontlines of scientific research; not since Robert Heilbroner's classic work The Worldly Philosophers have we had as attractive a glimpse of the essential science of economics.

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About the Author:

Former Boston Globe columnist David Warsh writes the online newsletter Economic Principals and is presently a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. His usual address is Somerville, Massachusetts.

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Starred Review.In this shrewd piece of intellectual history, former Boston Globe columnist Warsh shows how two contradictory concepts of Adam Smith-the invisible hand and the division of labor (famously, at a pin factory)-took on lives of their own after their 1776 publication in The Wealth of Nations, and then finally converged in the work of late 20th century economist Paul Romer. In the first half of this book, Warsh gives an entertaining and precise history of economic thought from Smith forward, through the lens of what have come to be two of his key constructs. Warsh's treatment of difficult economic concepts like value is brief but clear and accurate, and he gives equal weight to personalities, institutions and broader social forces. In the second half of the book, Warsh advances the claim that in the 1970s and 80s, when Romer divided economics into people, ideas and things, instead of labor, capital and land, he touched off a revolution in the field, one that is still playing out in now-dominant "New Growth Theory" economics. Warsh does not focus narrowly on Romer's work, but describes the social and institutional framework of modern professional economics: how ideas percolate, how papers are published, how careers advance and how meetings and societies are organized. The book brings sophisticated ideas into a complex story without losing the thread, or the reader's interest.
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