Peter Temin: Tribute to David S. Landes:
David Landes was… the author of masterful narratives written throughout the latter half of the twentieth century… the growth of technology, given a primary place in economic history by the importance of the Industrial Revolution and in economics by the pioneering work of Robert Solow… the role of entrepreneurs… the role of culture in economic affairs….
The lead book in the first area is The Unbound Prometheus… describes how the world economy was freed from the Malthusian constraint of static resources…. Landes supplied the evidence behind these broad generalizations in a riveting narrative of discoveries. He added a detailed case study to this general narrative in Revolution in Time, the history of innovation in the clock and watch industries….
Individuals appear prominently in these books, but they are overshadowed by the innovations they made. Landes turned his focus to the people in Dynasties, which placed entrepreneurs in families… a book edited by him, Joel Mokyr and William Baumol on the role of entrepreneurs in history….
This concern with individuals and families leads naturally into the analysis of societies and cultures. But while we can see this progression in Landes’ work in retrospect, it is clear he had this underlying concern all along. His first book, Bankers and Pashas, was about the conflict of cultures between industrialized Europe and less “developed” Egypt in the late nineteenth century…. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1998)… contains many insights, but one stands out starkly… no society that excluded women from economic activity could prosper…. Even more important in Landes’ account was the attitude in the dominant men engendered by gender discrimination.