Arnold Kling  

The IQ Revolution?

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Gregory Clark writes,


Millenia of living in stable societies, under tight Malthusian pressures that rewarded effort, accumulation, and fertility limitation, encouraged the development of cultural forms--in terms of work inputs, time preference, and family formation--which facilitated modern economic growth.

This is from his forthcoming book. Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution first took off in England because its population was slightly ahead of the rest of the world in bourgeois virtues (to use Deirdre McCloskey's term), literacy, and numeracy. He avoids using the term IQ.

It comes out in September. In addition to predicting that Anglospherists, Bryan Caplan, and Steve Sailer will appreciate Clark's book, I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a topic for a Ph.D dissertation. Each chapter contains provocative analysis based on interesting but limited empirical work, which cries out for further study.

On the book jacket, Tyler Cowen is quoted as saying that Clark's book "may just prove to be the next blockbuster in economics." Indeed it is, if nothing else because of the clever ways that Clark uses data to try argue his points. However, neither Tyler nor I are entirely persuaded. Responding to one of Tyler's posts, I wrote,


Clark claims that these changes were due to natural selection of personality traits, rather than institutional changes. I would think that if this were true, one would tend to find smooth, exponential improvement. If institutions were important, one would be more likely to see jumps and plateaus.

Clark makes exactly such a claim. In chapter 12, he writes,

The appearance of a sudden shock to the economic system was created instead by accidents and contingencies. In particular the enormous population growth in England after 1760, Britain's military successes in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and the development of the United States all contributed to the appearance of abrupt departure, as opposed to the continuation of more gradual changes.

In another post, I wrote,


I wonder how to reconcile Clark's views with those of William Lewis (The Power of Productivity), who says that you can take an unskilled man from Latin America and turn him into a highly productive construction worker simply by moving him to the United States and putting him to work under American management practices.

This question occurred to me again while reading my pre-publication copy of Clark's book.

I am highly tempted to write a very, very long review essay. For this post, I will resist temptation and stop here.



COMMENTS (5 to date)
Karl Smith writes:

I read a paper on this a while back. I think it was also by Clark.

Its cute but I find it hard to buy. It is very difficult to shake the notion that something very specific happen in England. I tend to think it had to do with the legal system and equity law in particular.

Simple empiricism like looking a map of national GDP per capita show that today distance from London seems to be a factor in economic development. Today.

When you think in terms of cultural as well as geographic distance the result seems even more striking.

caveat bettor writes:

Malthusian pressures? Wow, more nagging growth correlations with theists.

I appreciate your posts on noble theists who advanced economic thought. But it seems about time to square the apparent conflicts between your atheistic-leaning posts, and your many posts on theistic subjects (like Malthus, Smith, Reid, Mill).

Or maybe the dissonance is constructive tension for your blog.

Steve Sailer writes:

Today, IQs aren't any higher in England than in, say, Italy, so a pure IQ explanation isn't likely. I think it has more to do with large-scale (beyond kin) cooperativeness, which has emerged in different times and places (e.g., Japan) and has even emerged and then receded (e.g., in Rome over the last 2500 years).

Frighteningly, it could be that cooperativeness is a long-term mistake. In the Middle East where farming has been around the longest, societies today don't self-organize well above the kin-group level. Perhaps that's the future ...

Steve Sailer writes:

The chicken-or-egg question is whether the English stopped relying on extended family mafias for protection because they had developed the common law or did they develop the common law because they wanted to stop relying on extended family mafias.

Jason Malloy writes:

There is some physiological evidence that there was an increase in IQ scores in England in the years Clark examines.

G Cochran seem to think so too.

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