Today, Jonah is joined by Virginia Postrel – former editor-in-chief of Reason magazine and author of many of the latter-day holy tomes of libertarianism, such as The Future and Its Enemies – to talk about her new book, The Fabric of Civilization. Virginia and Jonah do a deep dive into several moments in which the changes in textile manufacturing created giant, revolutionary, consciousness-shifting ripple effects regarding how civilizations viewed their relationship to markets and the economy. In particular, Virginia addresses how the un-guilded spinners of Europe were like the Luddites before it was cool, why textile-making would be one of the most laborious processes in the world without advanced technologies, and what made cotton fabric from India so special that “the French treated it much the same as the American government treats cocaine.” At least that kind of wild protectionism confirms a long-held American instinct: Never trust the French.


Show Notes:

Virginia’s book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World

“Isaiah’s Job”

Our first episode with Matt Ridley (on technical innovation)

Our second episode with Matt Ridley (on more technical innovation)

Virginia at Volokh Conspiracy: The textile industry’s relationship to literacy

The salaries of spinners may be higher than one thinks

The High Sparrow and the Labor Theory of Value

Some bits from “The Bad Polanyi” on ancient Assyria

Virginia talks about Indian cotton prints

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  1. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher

    I want to hear more about polymer chemistry. I’m only ninety seconds into the podcast, but I already know you won’t talk enough about polymer chemistry for my taste.

    • #1
  2. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash

    I recently heard her on Econ Talk and don’t remember if she went into polymer chemistry. There was a lot of fascinating information on turning plants into fabric.

    • #2
  3. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher

    Yeah, I gather the polymer chemistry setup was a gag at the start, but it went over poorly. You can’t promise a man polymer chemistry and then deliver textiles.

    Once I got over my disappointment the textiles part was pretty interesting.

    • #3
  4. KevinKrisher Coolidge

    I love the podcast. Also GLOP. But Jonah … kitty litter?

    • #4
  5. GlennAmurgis Coolidge

    This podcast was more interesting than I thought it would be. I have been a fan of Virginia from her reason days and her book “The Future and its Enemies”

    • #5
  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda

    @seawriter has a review of her book.\

    • #6