Summary Invention of Invention

Download Summary Invention of Invention

Post on 12-Nov-2014




3 download

Embed Size (px)


Summary of Smith's The Invention of Invention


Development Economics Assignment 1Summary: In this particular chapter of Poverty and the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith attempts to explain the rationale behind the rapid development of European nations in the Middle Ages, while also pointing out the factors that inhibited the advancement of China and the Muslim World. Two factors (which were present in Europe), he notes, lead a society to Technological Innovation: Division of Labor and Widening of the Market, and then proceeds to explain his point through a few examples. The first example is that of the simple Water Wheel, which was revived in the 10th Century and expanded to be used in new, innovative ways such as grinding grain, hammering metal, pulping rags for paper and pounding cloth among others. The improved Water Wheel provided greater efficiency in Dams and Ponds including and new powered capabilities, allowing Europe to mechanize, before any other civilization. Another invention quoted by Smith in this context, is Eyeglasses, which effectively increased the working life of craftsmen (Scribes, weavers, metal workers), who normally experienced farsightedness at age 40, by another 20 years. Eyeglasses were first invented in Pisa in the 13th Century by improving crude devices such as crystals and magnifiers; although rudimentary by todays standards, they more than solved the problem in medieval times. By the 15th Century, Italy was producing spectacles by the thousands, with lenses catering to both Myopic and Presbyopic patients. The invention of the eyeglasses not only increased the workers productivity, but also spurred the invention of other instruments such as micrometers, gauges and fine wheel cutters, laying the basis for mechanized, articulated Machines. Unlike the rest of the civilizations, which relied on the artisans Hand, Europe steadily began to rely on consistent Mass Production. The third example is that of a Mechanical Clock. Prior to this innovation, people relied on sundials and water Clocks for timekeeping. Both of these instruments were unreliable and inconsistent, and worked only under certain conditions. As society expanded, accurate timekeeping became imperative for Church prayer offices and assessing working hours. This brief was fulfilled in the 13th Century by the mechanical clock, which provided one uniform,

dependable measure of time across all cities and towns. Because the early models were somewhat inaccurate, the pressure to improve constantly drove the Clockmakers to innovation and precision, allowing Europe to enjoy monopoly for an impressive 300 years. The Chinese, despite owning mechanical clocks did not prefer share them with the masses, curtailing them as pieces of regal supremacy. The Muslims also refrained from publicizing the use of the mechanical clock (except for Call to Prayer), fearing it would undermine the Muezzins authority and influence. These attitudes prevented the Chinese and the Muslims from attaining the technological prowess of Europe. Next came the Printing Press, first invented in China in the 9th Century. The printing press was not suited to the Chinese alphabet, which consisted of a multitude of characters and hence was not very widely used. Also, during that period, the Chinese intellectual growth had somewhat stagnated, and new ideas were discouraged. Even though Europe came to printing years after China, their interest and enthusiasm for the written word exceeded that of the Chinese by far. Gutenberg printed the first bible in 1452. In spite of strong antagonism from the Church, millions of copies were being printed and published in Europe by the end of the 15th Century. Other societies such as the Muslims resisted the concept, abhorring the idea of a printed Quran accepting it only in the late 19th Century. The last example that Smith uses to elaborate his claim is of Gunpowder. Gunpowder, like printing, came to Europe from China in around the 14th Century. The Chinese had had it since the 11th Century, using it in powder form as a weak incendiary device in wars and in fireworks. The Europeans, by the 16th Century, enhanced its usage greatly clumping it into pebbles to provide stronger firepower. In addition, they better incorporated the materials to improve performance, gaining absolute dominance in Military ventures. After these examples, the author compares the European society with the Muslim and Chinese civilizations and attempts to explain why Europe advanced rapidly, while these steadily fell behind. Initially, in the period between A.D. 750 and 1100, Islamic science and technology had surpassed Europes by far and ultimately laid the basis of later European knowledge. After that period however, science came to be interpreted as heresy with religious adherents, something to be reviled and discarded. Under this philosophy, scientific achievement stagnated in the Muslim

World. China was well acquainted with numerous inventions before the Europeans, the list including paper, gunpowder, porcelain, mechanized spinning and blast furnaces among others. Yet the Chinese failed to realize the potential of these devices, which ultimately fell into abandonment. Several reasons have been proposed for the disability of China to precede the European technological dominance. The first is the absence of a free market system and interference of the State in matters of private property, which brought about corruption, violence and punishment. Secondly, the traditional role of women led them to being confined to houses and disbarred from utilizing their skills in production also contributed to the cessation of advancement. A third reason is the totalitarian rule imposed on the people by the state, who were regulated in even everyday petty matters such as clothing, music and festivals. This imposition of the state discouraged discourse and inhibited inquiry itself. Europe, on the other hand, enjoyed autonomy from such state interference, and under such became a breeding ground for new ideas, innovations and dissertations. The church (unlike Islamic Clerics), rather than resisting this newfound freedom, embraced it and became a custodian of technological knowledge. This Invention of Invention, from a religious standpoint is explained by the following rationale. Manual Labor was much praised and respected in Christian Faith. Secondly, the European faith drove them to believe in a progressive concept of time rather than a cyclical one, which allowed them to think ahead, instead of dwelling in the past. Lastly Smith concludes that whereas, these Theological reasons were pertinent factors in advancing Europe, the role of Free Markets was positively immense. Hard work was praised and rewarded, which spurred innovation and led to constant improvement, leading Europe on to where others had never set foot.