Update: Grim, who comments below, has a thorough answer to this article over at his own site.
I recommend the National Review article this week on the subject. I don't think it is the most stunning thing I've even read, but it's true enough, and I loved the simple expression of the obvious, "To know the actual economic history of enrichment and civilization, you have to know the numbers. Most people don’t," and the follow-on "The surpassingly wise Swedish professor of public health Hans Rosling reported that even well-informed people score worse than a chimp would throwing darts at the numbers." Anyone who can keep that in mind deserves further reading.
I have long contended that the conventional wisdom on any topic often installs itself to deny an uncomfortable truth, not summarise the truth. It's a GK Chesterton idea, though he was quick to point out that it was the common belief of those who consider themselves the educated classes which are more vulnerable to this. The wisdom of crowds is real on many physical events, but this does not extend to opinions, where that wisdom is not an average of many independent evaluations, but a reading of the room of what is the most socially useful thing to believe. We have to live in a society of some sort, and we trim our sails in order to strike the balance we want between getting along, fitting in, and distinguishing ourselves in the internal competitions for status and good.
I think the article overstates the case, as sharp practice and cheating others may not have been the central driver of wealth, but it did contribute some. Yet there was an excellent example from Noam Chomsky when he used to speak on campuses. He was very good at giving opponents arguments that were unexpected and a little indirect, knowing that few would have the ability to think on their feet quickly enough to articulate the refutation. (It didn't work with Buckley, if you've ever seen the video.) In redirecting from the improved global wealth once there were free-market economies, Chomsky would state that the standard of living for slaves increased in every decade after 1800, but did that mean that slavery was a good thing? And dare people to defend slavery. He caught many people on the hop with that. But it occurred to me (it probably wouldn't have in time if I were in the debate) that it wasn't a good defense of slavery, but it was a helluva good one for the free market. If you are living in a situation with little freedom, where the leaders are unconcerned or even hostile to your improvement, and you still get richer, it means that something about that system must be working. AFAIK, no one ever said that at the time.