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"Why did Britain have an industrial revolution first?"

Trevor Butterworth, reviewing Joel Mokyr's book The Enlightened Economy, summarizes Mokyr's answer as follows:

The reason for Britain's exceptionalism, Mr. Mokyr says, lies in the increasing hostility to rent-seeking—the use of political power to redistribute rather than create wealth—among the country's most important intellectuals in the second half of the 18th century. Indeed, a host of liberal ideas, in the classic sense, took hold: the rejection of mercantilism's closed markets, the weakening of guilds and the expansion of internal free trade, and robust physical and intellectual property rights all put Britain far ahead of France, where violent revolution was needed to disrupt the privileges of the old regime.

"Hostility to rent-seeking": a lesson from history we ignore at our great peril.

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