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Gregory Clark

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[See also last week's A Farewell To Alms: Why Did The Industrial Revolution Happen Where It Did?]

In A Farewell to Alms, economic historian Gregory Clark asks: Why has the Industrial Revolution of the last two centuries caused a Great Divergence, making some nations so rich, while others have stayed so poor.

This is a social scientist’s question, not a historian’s, because thereare enough separate countries in the world that general patterns can be perceived that can be reasonably well explained by a limited number of factors.

There are a lot of data to work with, folks.

A quick survey of the globe shows, for example, that countries tend to be poorer when they are ruled by crazed ideologies (e.g., North Korea vs. South Korea) or are far inland (e.g., Paraguay vs. Uruguay).

But another factor is so obvious that we aren’t supposed to mention it.

If you rank the 156 countries with populations of one million or more in order of per capita GDP, the top 23 are made up of one Arab oil country (the United Arab Emirates), four Northeast Asian countries—and 18 countries with populations primarily of European origin.

Number 24 is Israel, where Europeans make up a little less than half the population, but dominate the economy. Not until 33rd place do wefind a non-oil country without a predominant European or Northeast Asian population: Trinidad and Tobago, which is 40 percent South Asian and 38 percent black.

The poorest European country is Serbia, which is still ahead of 66 others.

As of 2006, the 43 countries with majority European populations average $22,000 each, the eight Northeast Asian countries $21,000, and the 105 other countries $5,225.

Economists, however, have intellectually disarmed themselves from tackling this second question. Clark complains:

“Although the disparities in performance across countries remained unchanged, the ‘labor quality’ explanation disappeared from the economics literature after WWII. … Unskilled labor is assumed to be of the same quality everywhere.”

Can humans really have evolved in just the last few millennia, as Gregory Clark implies?

Ironically, despite being a critic of the last 200 years of economics, Clark still suffers somewhat from the economist’s syndrome of not paying attention to non-economists. Clark doesn’t make a good case for his theory because he hasn’t read the basics of behavioralgenetics, such as Nicholas Wade’s many New York Times articles on the subject of rapid recent human evolution (as summarized in Wade’s 2006 book Before the Dawn).

So Clark doesn’t cite any of the abundant evidence that humans can evolve new tendencies quite quickly. For example, as Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending pointed out in 2005, the Jews of the Roman Empire were not known for being particularly smart (at least not compared to the Greeks), but they now have the highest average IQ of any known group.

Clark has read a lot of anthropology. He points out that hunter-gatherers and primitive farmers in the rain forests don’t act onaverage exactly like modern Englishmen:

“Based on observation of modern forager and shiftingcultivation societies we would expect that earlyagriculturalists were impulsive, violent, innumerate,illiterate, and lazy. Ethnographies of such groupsemphasize high rates of time preference, high levels ofinterpersonal violence, and low work inputs. Abstractreasoning abilities were limited.”

In general, hunter-gatherers have not made the transition to themodern world terribly well, with the plight of the Australian Aborigines being particularly notorious at present.

As Wade pointed out in Before the Dawn, human skulls have been getting thinner since the invention of agriculture, presumably because we get whacked upside the head less than our ancestors did, and thus our brains need less protection from skull fractures. (That’s probably why Australian Aborigine hunter-gatherers have the" href="">thickest skulls on average of any modern human group.) Because farmers settled down in one place, their personalities had to settle down too, so they weren’t so ornery and could get along with larger numbers of people.

Still, it’s hard to determine whether the contemporary troubles of hunter-gatherers are caused by a general lack of adaptation to the modern world or by their specific genetic vulnerability to alcoholism. Their ancestors have only been culled by alcohol-related disasters for the last few generations, so they are currently undergoing the horrors that Mediterranean peoples presumably underwent when they invented wine many thousands of years ago. See the stories of Noah and Lot in the early Old Testament for lurid examples of drunkenness that aren’t very common among modern Jews—who have extremely low rates of alcoholism, perhaps due to the newly discovered ADH2*2 genetic variant.

On the other hand, Clark’s readings in anthropology aren’t all that helpful to his theory because the vast majority of people alive today are descended not from recent hunter-gatherers, but from thousands of years of agriculturalists. In fact, the English started farming and keeping cattle millennia later than did, say, the Iraqis of the Fertile Crescent, which raises a conundrum: Why did European and Northeast Asian farmers adapt so rapidly to the Industrial Revolution, while other farming peoples are still struggling?

For instance, by careful study of the oldest industry of the IndustrialRevolution, cotton textiles, Clark shows that English and American workers have been (and remain) much more productive than Indian workers, even when using the same machines with imported English managers.

On average, tropical peoples seem to take work less seriously. A 1909 inquiry into the cotton mills of India found:

“One manager even stated that the typical worker’washes, bathes, washes his clothes, smokes, shaves,sleeps, has his food, and is surrounded as a rule by hisrelations.’”

Leaving out the bits about smoking and shaving, that is an accuratedescription of my work habits while attempting (and repeatedly failing) to complete this book review in my home office. Which may explain why my productivity resembles that of an Indian mill worker.

So the real question is why some farmers’ descendents are now more productive than other farmers’ descendents. Over the summer,physicist Michael A. Hart offered a simple explanation in his book Understanding Human History: winter. Groups that have evolved under harsher climates tend to be smarter (which Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen documented in 2002′s IQ and the Wealth of Nations.)

I have some concerns with Hart’s model. Notably, wouldn’t the dry seasons common in the tropics encourage farmers to work hard to pile up surpluses during the growing season, just as farmers in the wintry north had to make hay while the sun shines?

Still, it’s a better starting point that any economist has come up with yet.

For instance, economics’ latest wunderkind, MIT’s Daron Acemoglu, the winner of the 2005 John Bates Clark medal for best economist under 40, has posted the draft of his enormous upcoming textbook Introduction to Modern Economic Growth online. Despite being 1192 pages long, the terms “intelligence” and “IQ” never appear in it!

Clark at least mentions intelligence—only to bring up Jared Diamond‘s sophistry to dismiss it. Wade writes:

“What was being inherited, in his view, was not greater intelligence—being a hunter in a foraging society requires considerably greater skill than the repetitive actions of an agricultural laborer.”

Okay, sure, but, according to Clark himself, the people whose descendents survived in England weren’t agricultural laborers so much as their bosses, the farmers who told the laborers what to do. So, the ones who were good at figuring out how to farm had lots of surviving kids.

I’m not saying that only IQ matters. The traits that Clark emphasizes,such as cooperativeness and future-orientation, are important, too.

But, because there is so much data readily available on national average IQs and their correlation with per capita income, it makes no sense for economists to continue to ignore it when writing about the wealth of nations.

Still, despite its flaws, Clark’s Farewell to Alms will endure as alandmark in the revival of economics.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Gregory Clark 
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An ambitious and provocative new book by University of California at Davis economic historian Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World attempts to explain two huge questions:

  • Why did one part of the human race finally break out of the “Malthusian trap”—in which growth in per capita income is washed away by subsequent population growth—namely England, at the end of the 18th Century, through rapid and sustained technological advance?
  • And why did the prosperity made possible by the Industrial Revolution successfully spread to some countries but not to others?

In the process, Clark offers a stunning rebuke to economists:

“God clearly created the laws of the economic world in order to have a little fun at economists’ expense. In other areas of inquiry, such as the physical sciences, there has been a steady accumulation of knowledge over the past four hundred years. … In economics, however, we see instead that our ability to describe and predict the economic world reached a peak around 1800. In the years since the Industrial Revolution there has been a progressive and continuing disengagement of economic models from any ability to predict differences of income and wealth across time and across countries and regions.

In other words, economists were closer to understanding the wealth of nations in 1776 when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations than they are today.

The pioneering economic works of Smith and Thomas Malthus (1798) accurately described the world before the Industrial Revolution that was just getting underway then with the employment of the steam engine in cotton mills. By 1817, when David Ricardo was pessimistically propounding what later came to be known as “the Iron Law of Wages,” England was moving in a new, liberating direction unexpected by economists.

In the modern world, a shortage of cheap labor turned out to be a blessing rather than a curse. The future belonged to countries with high wage, high quality work forces.

But the prestige of the economists and their Scroogeonomic emphasis on cheap labor was so great that Britain didn’t even effectively outlaw the use of five-year-old boys as chimney sweeps until 1875.

Clark’s book idiosyncratically combines the strengths and weaknesses of both economists and historians.

Although economists were long the butt of angry jokes, the improvement of the economy after the early 1980s has raised their prestige and self-confidence. As shown by the three million copies sold of Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics, economists are the hot academics of the moment, the glamour professors, just as cultural anthropologists were back in Margaret Mead‘s heyday in the 1950s.

The strong point of economists is that they believe in theory in the same sense that hard scientists do—as a tool for simplifying ourunderstanding of reality and for making more accurate predictions. (In contrast, professors of English literature use the word theory to mean the hateful mumbo-jumbo that they wield as a barrier to entry to their otherwise appealing profession—a barricade of bad writing that repels many of the huge number of people who love good writing and would otherwise want to be English professors.)

Yet, because economists have mastered some theory (they’re particularly proud about understanding Ricardo’s concept of comparative advantage in international trade), they tend to view reality not as what needs to be explained but as a vague inspiration for the occasional stylized example to illustrate their theories.

In particular, economists don’t read much by non-economists. Just as their theory would predict, economists are driven by self-interest, andtheir profession does not much reward curiosity about anything written by outsiders. So a certain smug ignorance is widespread among economists (as we’ve seen repeatedly in the immigration debates).

It’s become common recently to describe economists as autistic.But there’s no need for that. The word sophomoricalready exists.

In sharp contrast to economists, historians love facts and hate theories, a predilection that has the opposite advantages and disadvantages. Historians tend to be omnivorously curious and humbleabout how much they don’t know. On the other hand, their love of detail makes them less likely to see the big patterns. And their emphasis on the uniqueness and complexity of events makes them prejudiced against predictions. Which means that while they are less often wrong than scientists, they are also less often right.

In the uneasy middle reside the economic historians.

Economic historian Gregory Clark begins A Farewell to Alms with a description of Malthusian England from 1200-1800. Due to England’swonderful stability, we have legal documents about property ownership and other economic facts going back 800 years.

Even though medieval England had a free market economy withnegligible taxes, and while the lives of the affluent improved due to inventions such as eyeglasses and the printing press, farm laborers saw no increase in their daily calorie intake over these 600 years. Indeed, the vast working class ate best in the generations after the Black Death of the mid-14th Century killed off a sizable fraction of the population, leaving more land and thus more of the roast beef of merrie olde England per survivor.

It’s important to remember, however, that life didn’t always seem as depressing to the English at the time as Clark often makes it sound. In the depths of the Malthusian trap of the late 16th Century, for example, one Englishman described his native land as:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise …This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

And despite their poverty, Malthusian-era English workers at least lived better than their counterparts in much more crowded China and Japan. That’s in part because they practiced population control through self-discipline, postponing marriage until they could afford it. Women didn’t marry on average until age 24 to 26, and a minority never married. (Illegitimate births only made up 3-4 percent of the total.) As Jane Austen’s novels show, marriage was a serious business revolving around love and money.

In contrast, the Chinese tended to marry in their late teen years. So populations would rapidly ascend to the maximum that current farmingtechniques could support under good government, then crash during spells of bad government—most recently in the early 1960s, when tens of millions of Chinese starved to death following Mao’s misbegotten Great Leap Forward.

Clark’s most important original research involves tabulating a couple of thousand wills from Will Shakespeare’s era. Although today we expect the poor to have more children than the rich, the opposite was true before the Industrial Revolution. The richest testators’ had twiceas many surviving children as the poorest. Therefore, laborers tended to die out, while the lineages of the successful flourished.

Thus the modern English are descended primarily from well-to-do farmers. In contrast, nobles tended to kill each other off—from 1330 to 1479, 26 percent of male aristocrats died violently—and townsmenoften died of diseases.

So the English are mostly the offspring of what Clark calls “the strivers” of generations past: the people who farmed hard andeffectively and saved their money to buy more land.

From this, Clark deduces an explanation for the rise and spread of the Industrial Revolution that has surprised the economics profession.

As Nicholas Wade, the genetics reporter of the New York Times, explained in his August 7, 2007 article In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence, Clark believes the Industrial Revolution

“… occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. 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 humanhistory, Dr. Clark argues. Because they grew more common in the centuries before 1800, whether by culturaltransmission or evolutionary adaptation, the Englishpopulation at last became productive enough to escapefrom poverty, followed quickly by other countries with the same long agrarian past.”

For example, interest rates were much higher in the past until the last few centuries. Clark argues that this is because the supply of savingswas lower, due to people being more impulsive.

Clark writes:

“Through the long agrarian passage leading up to theIndustrial Revolution, man was becoming biologicallymore adapted to the modern economic world. … The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.”

Is Clark’s Darwinian explanation plausible?

The crucial thing to realize about A Farewell to Alms is that Clark is trying to answer these two very different types of questions with one response.

  • Why the Industrial Revolution happened in England in the late 18th Century—rather than in, say, the Low Countries, or the Ruhr Valley, or Japan at some other time

This is a historian’s question because it’s a unique event. There’s no point in developing a general theory about where and when theIndustrial Revolution is most likely to take place, because—assuming the entire world does not descend into a Mad Max post-apocalyptic wasteland—it will never happen again.

Nor does there seem to be much point in looking for genetic differences that would explain why the Industrial Revolution happened in England rather than in, say, Holland. Another researcher into wills has found the same pattern of the rich out-reproducing the poor incenturies past in Austria and southern Germany; it’s been found among the Ashkenazi Jews of medieval Europe; and it probably will be found in many places at many times when others bother to look.

Similarly, Northeast Asia’s offshore islanders, the Japanese, are awfully bourgeois today, with higher savings rates and lower crime rates than the English, so I don’t think Clark’s theory of how thebourgeois virtues were selected for in the English will serve to explain why the Japanese didn’t invent the steam engine.

My guess is that the Industrial Revolution took both middle class habits of mind, for which the Japanese had evolved plenty of capability, and a little of the zigzag lightning in the brainthat the Japanese havealways claimed they lack in comparison to the more innovative Europeans.

If the question is, “Why did England rather than mainland Europe invent the modern world?” I’d turn once again to John of Gaunt’s speech in Richard II in which he describes the advantages of isolation on an island:

“This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war”

Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the English People that:

“Isolation … is the most consistent single thread running through the tapestry of English history. … It does not preclude contacts, exchanges, cooperation: but it inhibits the systematic involvement with the land-mass which diminishes, and in the end destroys, the island privilege.”

In contrast, Clark’s second question—Why have the blessings of the Industrial Revolution spread to some countries but not to others?—is more important for the future. It can tell us something about where we’re all going to live the rest of our lives—and our children, in their lives.

I’ll review this second question and spell out Clark’simplications more explicitly than he does next week.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Gregory Clark 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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