Arnold Kling  

Farewell to Alms Watch

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New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade writes,


Historians used to accept changes in people’s behavior as an explanation for economic events, like Max Weber’s thesis linking the rise of capitalism with Protestantism. But most have now swung to the economists’ view that all people are alike and will respond in the same way to the same incentives. Hence they seek to explain events like the Industrial Revolution in terms of changes in institutions, not people.

Dr. Clark’s view is that institutions and incentives have been much the same all along and explain very little, which is why there is so little agreement on the causes of the Industrial Revolution. In saying the answer lies in people’s behavior, he is asking his fellow economic historians to revert to a type of explanation they had mostly abandoned and in addition is evoking an idea that historians seldom consider as an explanatory variable, that of evolution.


Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the pointer.

I wrote about Gregory Clark's new book, A Farewell to Alms, here, and I've mentioned in a several posts since. I submitted what I think is a pretty good review essay to a couple of economics history journals, but they do not deal in book reviews. I'm still working on finding an outlet for the essay.

Meanwhile, Tyler Cowen is going to have a book forum on the book. He seems to think that he created such demand for Clark's book that the publisher fell behind.

By the way, I also admired Wade's book.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
jaim klein writes:

Gregory Clark work is very convincing. But the NYT review leaves some questions unanswered:

(1) It is counterintuitive that Chinese and Japanese richer classes did not reproduce faster than the poorer classes. Rich Chinese always managed to have several wives and many children, while Europeans are monogamous. If something, rich and powerful Africans are much more fertile than poor Africans. In this sense, we Europeans seem to me the most equalitarian and democratic, with the most moderate differential reproduction rates.

(2) If the majority of us is descended from generations of people used to a confortable middle class lifestyle, why is it that we still have severe maladaptive behaviours such as: overeating (most of us are obese because we are not adapted to current state of abundance of food), malnutrition diseases (like avitaminosis, diabetes), alcohol and narcotics abuse susceptability, and the greatest enigma of all, why we are so indifferent to reproductive opportunities (not to sex, but to making children). I presume if current situation continues, we may end like the Greeks and the Romans before us, replaced by newer, younger peoples.

Fat Man writes:

The NYTimes article omitted any mention of the Reformation, the Civil War, and their sequella. I realize that the article did not purport to be a synopsis of the book. But, given the well-known role of the members of dissenting churches in the Industrial Revolution, I think that Dr. Clark either has to explain why the cultural (religous) factors are not the most important, or be regarded as less than serious by historians.

Michael writes:

There is some dispute about Dissenters being the dominant religion of industrialists. One book I read confirmed your idea. But another argues that for the Victorian era most businessmen were Anglicans although some dissenters for example, Quakers, Methodists, and Congregationalist had higher proportions of businessmen than their population would indicates. Other groups of Dissenters, for example Baptists, and Primative Methodists had a underrepresentation in the commerical class.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

You can't talk about the Industrial Revolution without talking about The Enclosure Movement

[Mr. Econotarian: Please email us at webmaster@econlib.org to fix this broken link. Thanks!--Econlib Ed.]

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