Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Hume on Local Knowledge and Economic Development

Schabas Margaret, University of British Columbia

David Hume was fascinated with the changing economic landscape of his day, particularly the rapid rise and expansion of trade and commerce, the spread of new artisan techniques and the growth of scientific knowledge. There is no doubt for Hume that the modern commercial era is preferable to any in the past. He singles out the innovation of daily interest lines of credit by Scottish bankers, the development of new dyes for clothing, and the advent of rational mechanics (mixed mathematics) in physics. Hume’s account is not simplistic. He accepts that genius will crop up in a mostly random manner. For this reason, and insofar as avarice is a universal passion, “it is more easy to account for the rise and progress of commerce in any kingdom, than for that of learning.” But the two move in tandem and for that reason, Hume argues that the new commercial world prompts the growth of knowledge in the arts and sciences, and vice versa. Does he thus engage the concept of the entrepreneur? Not exactly, but he does recognize the importance of local knowledge, secrecy, and perseverance for those who bring about innovations in the manufacturing and financial sectors. Notwithstanding his overarching skepticism, this paper will engage Hume’s commitment to genuine progress in scientific knowledge and artisan techniques, and position these within the path of economic development.

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Keywords: Hume, Commerce, Manufacturing, Scientific and Technical Knowledge

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