Step back a bit?! But I like it down here in the weeds!
That's a very useful way to separate out two issues here, and helps me to clarify what I'm up to.
My main focus is on whether atmospheric pressure exploitation is older than the standard historiography suggests. Hence the choice of title, about whether the steam engine could have been invented earlier.
Part I is really about setting up 1) the pretty uncontroversial claim that it is atmospheric pressure and not steam itself that is the key issue of debate here, because of how human energy expl... (read more)
I'm glad Hannes should notice this deeper implication, as it is certainly one thing I had intended when I originally wrote this piece! When I give seminars to economists, convincing them that innovation might be outside of one's choice-set is one of the first and most difficult things I try to do.
Overall, the answer is no.
The early mechanisation was not of cotton, but of silk and wool. Cotton only looks so important in retrospect. You see huge silk-twisting factories in Piedmont in the 17thC already, with the methods then stolen and brought to the Netherlands in the 1680s, and to England by the 1710s.
It's also worth bearing in mind that textile mechanisation takes many forms. It's not just about spinning, but about carding, weaving, and more - e.g. stocking knitting was mechanised in the 1590s.
Now, looking at cotton specifically, textile hist... (read more)
Carbon capture seems like a pretty good potential use, yeah. I hadn't thought of vaccine development, though I wonder if traditional finance may be better at that, as you'd marshal more resources promising people the upside too. Good question on the Gates Foundation, I'd be interested to know too.