The Most Influential Event to Happen in 1776 Isn’t What You Think

Economic Transformation

The question I ask myself is, In a thousand years’ time, what will people look at as the most important development in this period? I think it's probably the economic transformation. If you are in 3000 AD, if the Lord has not returned by then, I think the Declaration of Independence will be fuzzy in the minds of a bunch of people. It might be like the Magna Carta today: incredibly important, still influential, but the wording might be a little hazy. What did we mean by that?

And obviously, North America by then will have long since been eclipsed by countries with larger populations, and it won't seem like the kind of earth-defining event it was. And neither will the steam engine, perhaps, and other developments. It won't be Beethoven's work, and all sorts of things that we might now acknowledge as incredibly important in this period.

Remaking the World

Andrew Wilson

In this skillfully researched book, Andrew Wilson explains how 7 historic events in 1776 shaped today’s post-Christian West and equips believers to share God’s truth in the current social landscape.

But I think it will be that this is the period where for 10,000 years human beings have had a roughly equivalent standard of living, and obviously, some have been very wealthy, but the average person has lived thirty years and has had an GDP per head of about $400 or $500 a year, and that's how most people have lived for most of history. But if you look at the late eighteenth century, you see an inflection point where for a combination of reasons, but much to do with industrial technology, you see a breakthrough.

The economist Thomas Malthus referred to this, and we now call it the Malthusian trap. He said human population grows, and if you do get economic growth, it just gets swallowed up because people have more kids. And so human beings can't break through this Malthusian trap, or the ceiling of economic growth.

In the 1770s, it was proved that he was wrong. In fact, he didn't even realize that that change was happening. He was writing about it after we'd begun to change it. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, you begin to see that the standard of living is rising exponentially and it's outpacing the growth of population. So even though the population of the world has grown by a factor of ten since then, the economic productivity has grown by seventy times. And so everyone now is much richer than they were in the eighteenth century.

So I think a thousand years from now, that will seem like the most important development. That might be a slightly economically nerdy point to make, but I think sometimes those economic forces might be less interesting on their own than the ideas or the rhetoric or the battles. But actually, over the very long run, I think they will make more impact on the way that most people on this planet live. So that's the one I would choose, but many would pick others. And the fascinating thing about this year, 1776, is there are plenty of great events to choose from.

Andrew Wilson is the author of Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West.

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