What have the Victorians done for us?

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Certainly the eras that gave us our scientific and intellectual heritage were very unequal, Eric Falkenstein notes, with not just an aristocracy but often slavery:

If some inequality is inevitable, how much is too much or too little?  When the West was beginning its industrial revolution and creating an unprecedented growth in productivity and social welfare, giving us the railroad, electricity, indoor plumbing, the internal combustion engine, etc., Piketty notes wages were ‘objectively miserable’ in the 19th century as if they could have been higher but for elite cupidity, and the Belle Époque evokes the specter of exploitation. The fact that the average height was rising and infant and maternal mortality rates were falling at an unprecedented rate after stagnating for centuries if not a millenium, supposedly means little. So too the great increase in technology that economist Robert Gordon notes was not only unprecedented, but singular, never to be achieved again.  In Piketty’s mind it’s an unbearably time, reminding me of the scene in Monte Python’s Life of Brian where John Cleese says, apart from the aqueduct, sanitation, peace, roads, etc., “what have the Romans done for us?”

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