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How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich

Finance By
(Layne Kennedy/Getty Images)
(Layne Kennedy/Getty Images)

200 years ago, a radical change started in what people are worth. Since mankind’s cave-dwelling days, the world’s average daily income had been $3 per capita (in current prices). There would be increases, but quickly enough it would plummet back down again.

Today, it’s up to $33.

With greater wealth came greater advancements in science and technology, contributing to improved global well-being. Dr. Deirdre McCloskey, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, elaborates on this period:

“Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income—mere 100% betterments in the human condition—had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan’s income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.”

Attempts to explain this era of growth and enrichment often fall along the ideological lines of Karl Marx or Adam Smith, but Dr. McCloskey has her own explanation: freedom. Read her full piece on this unprecedented phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal here, or watch her explain it in the video below.