Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"A Farewell to Alms"

The New York Times reviews ideas developed by Professor Gregory Clark on the causes of the Industrial Revolution. His unconventional hypotheses, until now circulated in articles and manuscripts, will be published next month in a book, "A Farewell to Alms." Economists are excited by the collection and organization of medieval data, somewhat less so by Clark's conclusions.

Clark believes that evolution played an important role.
The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues.

Because they grew more common in the centuries before 1800, whether by cultural transmission or evolutionary adaptation, the English population at last became productive enough to escape from poverty, followed quickly by other countries with the same long agrarian past.

Why did this happen in England, rather than Japan or China? Because, according to Clark, the wealthiest classes in Japan and China were relatively unfertile, while in England the rich were outbreeding the poor. When that phenomenon was coupled with downward mobility, a middle class was born.

In fact, Clark suggests that there might be a genetic component to the behaviors that underlie capitalism. Not very politically correct. I'm going to keep an eye on this one.

1 comment:

JLM said...

Nonviolence? Literacy? Work ethic? Willingness to save?

If these human traits are on the upswing in 21st-century America, I'm Homer Simpson.