IAS Fellow's Public Lecture: How we became rich: from necessities to diversity and imaginary worlds
Industrialized countries started to become much richer than in the past from the beginning of the industrial revolution. In spite of this increased rate of wealth creation, during a large part of the XIXth century most people remained relatively poor and could just afford such basic necessities as food, clothing and housing. Towards the end of the XIXth century, and increasingly during the XXth century, a large share of the population of industrialized countries could afford to purchase types of goods and services which could not be defined as necessities, such as radios, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, television receivers etc. In more analytical terms, this could be described as the beginning of increasing product quality and of product differentiation.
The lecture will discuss the reasons for and mechanisms by means of which this transition occurred. What could seem the manifestation of an inevitable progress turns out to be a more complex process in which higher worker competencies, increasing wages, higher product quality and differentiation, increasing demand for education interacted to create a virtuous circle which made industrialized societies progressively richer and able to afford an increasingly wide range of goods and services. This transition not only contributed to improve the well being of a large part of industrialized societies, but stabilized the political system on which these societies were founded.
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