|Awards||Heineken Award for History (2006)|
Balzan Prize (2015)
|Alma mater||Yale University|
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
|Doctoral advisor||William N. Parker|
John C. H. Fei
|Doctoral students||Avner Greif|
|Main interests||Economic history of Europe|
|Influenced||Cormac Ó Gráda|
Joel Mokyr (born 26 July 1946) is a Netherlands-born American-Israeli economic historian. He is a professor of economics and history at Northwestern University, where he has taught since 1974; in 1994 he was named the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences. He is also a Sackler Professorial Fellow at the University of Tel Aviv's Eitan Berglas School of Economics.
Mokyr was born in Leiden, Netherlands. His father, a civil servant, and his mother were Dutch Jews who survived the Holocaust. His father died of cancer when Mokyr was one year old, so he was raised by his mother in Haifa, Israel.
Mokyr earned a B.A. in economics and history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1968. He earned an M.Phil. in economics in 1972 and a Ph.D. in economics in 1974, both from Yale University. His dissertation was about "Industrial Growth and Stagnation in the Low Countries, 1800-1850" and was supervised by William N. Parker.
After completing his Ph.D. at Yale University, Mokyr began working at Northwestern University in 1974. Since then, he has been chair or co-chair for over 50 doctoral student theses. A former editor of the Journal of Economic History and President of the Economic History Association, he served as the editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History.
He continues to serve as editor-in-chief of a book series published by Princeton University Press, The Princeton University Press Economic History of the Western World. A former chair of the Economics Department and President of the Economic History Association, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a number of comparable institutions in Europe. He also serves as editor of the Essays in Economic & Business History.
He became a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001. In 2006, he was awarded the biennial Heineken Award for History by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He won the 2015 Balzan International Prize for economic history.
Mokyr posits that the Industrial Revolution was the result of culture and institutions. He argues that the root of modernity is in "the emergence of a belief in the usefulness of progress", and that "it was a turning point when intellectuals started to conceive of knowledge as cumulative".
Mokyr furthermore argues that political fragmentation (the presence of a large number of European states) made it possible for heterodox ideas to thrive, as entrepreneurs, innovators, ideologues, and heretics could easily flee to a neighbouring state in the event that the one state would try to suppress their ideas and activities. This is what set Europe apart from the technologically advanced, large unitary empires such as China and India. China had both a printing press and movable type, and India had similar levels scientific and technological achievement as Europe in 1700, yet the Industrial Revolution would occur in Europe, not China or India. In Europe, political fragmentation was coupled with an "integrated market for ideas" where Europe's intellectuals used the lingua franca of Latin, had a shared intellectual basis in Europe's classical heritage and the pan-European institution of the Republic of Letters.
Mokyr presents his explanations for the Industrial Revolution in the 2016 book A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy. The book has received positive reviews. Deirdre McCloskey described it as a "brilliant book... It's long, but consistently interesting, even witty. It sustains interest right down to page 337... The book is not beach reading. But you will finish it impressively learned about how we got to where we are in the modern world." In her review, McCloskey furthermore lauded Mokyr as a "Nobel-worthy economic scientist".
In a review published in Nature, Brad DeLong found that while he favored other explanations for the Industrial Revolution, "I would not be greatly surprised if I were wrong, and Mokyr's brief...turned out to be the most broadly correct analysis...A Culture of Growth is certainly making me rethink."
Cambridge economic historian Victoria Bateman wrote, "In pointing to growth-boosting factors that go beyond either the state or the market, Mokyr's book is very welcome. It could also feed into discussions about the scientific community post-Brexit. By reviving the focus on culture it will, however, prove controversial, particularly among economists. However, a fine definitional distinction is to be considered between the ?culture as ideas, socially learned" and ?culture as inheritance transmitted genetically". This Economist article makes the distinction clear. The book has also been reviewed favorably by Diane Coyle, Peer Vries, Mark Koyama, Enrico Spolaore, and The Economist. Geoffrey Hodgson criticized the book for placing "too much explanatory weight" on "too few extraordinary people."
Mokyr outlined three reasons why societies resist new technologies:
"These three motives often merge and create powerful forces that use political power and persuasion to thwart innovations. As a result, technological progress does not follow a linear and neat trajectory. It is, as social constructionists have been trying to tell us for decades, a profoundly political process."