More | Philip Coggan

Summary of: More: The 10,000-Year Rise of the World Economy
By: Philip Coggan


Step into the captivating world of ‘More: The 10,000-Year Rise of the World Economy’ by Philip Coggan, where the interconnected intricacies of global growth are laid bare. The book takes you on a fascinating journey, starting from the genesis of agriculture to modern-day economic specialties and beyond. You’ll discover how civilizations throughout history have contributed to the rise of the global economy, including the role of early Islamic societies, Europe’s economic ascent, and the Industrial Revolution. This concise summary will provide insights into the innovations, breakthroughs, and historical events that have fueled economic expansion, with a particular focus on transportation, globalization, and manufacturing.

The Evolution of Agriculture

The rise of agriculture led to the birth of cities and trade which eventually sparked the massive economic growth we see today. However, farming wasn’t an easy feat. Ancient Greeks and Romans rested their fields every other year to deal with soil depletion. Plowing was another technological milestone that sprouted around 4000 BC that refreshed the soil. By the Middle Ages, farmers in Northern Europe developed a crop rotation system so their land lay fallow for only a third of the year. In the 18th century, English farmers fertilized arable land with manure and planted legumes to boost nitrogen content. It was believed that the rapid population growth would lead to starvation due to an inability to meet human nutritional needs, a theory famously coined by economist Thomas Malthus. However, humans continued to improve agricultural technology, and the Malthusian trap was never realized.

The Rise and Fall of Economic Powers

The spread of Islam brought with it advanced economic systems and cross-border payment methods such as the hawala. Muslim societies of the time were open to innovation and technological advancement, importing ideas and cultivating crops with the help of irrigation. Meanwhile, much of the world lived in harsh conditions with low life expectancies, scarce food, and limited access to education. The European economic rise hinged on the strategic importance of coastal cities, including Venice, Genoa, and Amalfi, where iron, timber, and enslaved people were exported to the Islamic world in exchange for textiles and spices. By 1500, Europe had grown richer and launched a campaign of global conquest, overtaking China’s position as the world’s most powerful nation. The book makes clear that technological advancement was slow, with conditions varying widely from region to region throughout history.

From Coal to Oil: The Evolution of Energy Sources

The development of energy sources from coal to oil played a significant role in the Industrial Revolution and modernity. Coal was first used in China in the 4th century AD, but it was not until the 1500s when Londoners turned to coal due to deforestation and the subsequent high cost of firewood. The use of coal led to the development of steam engines and the Industrial Revolution, but it also came with downsides such as dangerous mining and air pollution. The oil age began in 1859 with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, which led to the invention of light bulbs and electrification. Electricity not only powered light bulbs but also labor-saving appliances, communication devices, and skyscrapers. Oil became a strategic asset during World War I, used for ships, planes, and trucks. Although the evolution of energy sources played a significant role in modernity and progress, it also had consequences that needed to be addressed, such as air pollution, safety hazards, and strategic dependence.

Industrialization and Its Mixed Blessings

The Industrial Revolution led to gains in living conditions and increased worldwide population. However, the expansion of global trade was built on the exploitation and misery of indigenous populations and enslaved people. Britain’s success during this time can be attributed to the creation of various economic institutions and a supportive government, while France’s overregulation hindered progress.

A History of Large-Scale Manufacturing

Throughout history, the production of goods was small-scale until the 18th century with the rise of textile mills. Harsh working conditions primarily affected women and children who were paid less and experienced more abuse. Manufacturing became a significant economic driver after World War II, leading developing nations to enter the sector. Today, technology continues to improve productivity, causing a decline in employment in manufacturing. However, over 300 million people in the developing world are still employed in this sector, compared to 63 million in the developed world. China and India’s growing middle-class populations have driven the demand for manufactured goods, particularly in the automobile industry, where new car sales in China have more than doubled from 2010 to 2017.

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