The material changes—empire, trade—were shown in Bourgeois Dignity(2010) to be wholly inadequate to explain the explosion of incomes 1800 to the present. What pushed the world into frenetic innovation were the slowly changing ideas 1600–1848 about the urban middle class and about their material and institutional innovations.
A class long scorned by barons and bishops, and regulated into stagnation by its very own guilds and city councils and state-sponsored monopolies, came to be treasured—at least by the standard of earlier, implacable scorn—from 1600 to the present, first in Holland and then in Britain and then the wider world. And when the Amsterdamers after 1600 or so, and the Londoners and Bostonians after 1700 or so, commenced innovating, more people commenced admiring them.
The new valuation of the bourgeoisie, a new dignity and liberty for ordinary people was a change peculiar to northwestern Europe in how people applied to economic behavior the seven old words of virtue—prudence, justice, courage, temperance, faith, hope, and love. With more or less good grace the people around the North Sea began to accept the outcome of trade-tested betterment. Then people did so in Europe generally and its offshoots, and finally in our own day in China and India.
Most came for the first time to regard creative destruction as just, and were courageous about responding to it, and hopeful in promoting it. Most people, with the exception of the angry clerisy of artists and intellectuals (and even them only after 1848), stopped hating the bourgeoisie as much as their ancestors had for so very long before. Many started loving it.
In consequence during a century or two the northwest Europeans became shockingly richer in goods and in spirit. That is, not economics but “humanomics” explains our riches.