Adam Smith concluded the first chapter of The Wealth of Nations with an observation intended to shock his readers out of their complacency. So miraculous is the power of economic growth, he wrote, that “the accommodation of an European prince does not so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodation of the latter exceeds that of many an African king”.
What was the magic formula that had allowed Europe’s economies to furnish even their poorest citizens with such unprecedented material comfort? Smith made this the ur-question of economic history — and in his masterwork, he supplied the ur-answer. The secret sauce is trade, and the division of labour which it permits. That led to his central policy conclusion: a liberal economic order that gives free rein to trade is to be protected at all costs from the partisans of protectionism and monopoly.
More, a lucid and wide-ranging new history of the global economy from Philip Coggan, is a book firmly in the Smithian tradition. Like Smith, Coggan — a senior Economist journalist and former FT columnist — is concerned that the sheer scale of what compound economic growth has achieved is not generally appreciated. Like Smith, he locates the roots of these tremendous improvements in the spread of markets and the growth of trade. And like Smith, Coggan’s ultimate goal is to defend the virtues of a liberal economic order in an age when those virtues are under siege.
You can read my review of More for the Financial Times here.