Arnold Kling  

Best Comment Thread Ever

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Morning Reading and Reactions... Key Labor Market Indicator...

I think that Tyler Cowen's first book club experiment has to be counted a success. Check out the comments on the latest post.
For example, Gregory Clark, the author of the book under discussion, writes,


As I thought about it I came to the conclusion that, given how little was happening in England institutionally in the run up to the IR [industrial revolution], and how little incentives changed in the IR, the process would only become explicable if

(1) The Industrial Revolution was really much more gradual than the conventional history assumes. Accidents, demography, etc all conspired to make 1800 seem like a much more sudden break than it was.

(2) Britain was less unique in this period than conventional histories assume. The IR was geographically also much more diffuse.

One of the big empirical contributions of the book is to try to make that case.

That made it possible that some kind of evolutionary development of the economy could explain the IR.


The comments of Gavin Kennedy are quite interesting.


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COMMENTS (3 to date)
caveat bettor writes:

Wow, you're right, that is a high quality comment thread!

Adam writes:

I'm glad to see that someone else finds the whole thread as fascinating as I do. What a wonderful contribution to scholarship this book club of his has the potential to be!

Barkley Rosser writes:

Well, Clark has failed to respond to some of the
sharper critiques of his argument. He never does
explain why it was the UK that had the IR first,
as he provides no data on demography from other
European countries and essentially agrees that all of northwestern Europe basically was very similar in many ways. I noted the link between its position of lots of coal and the initial invention of the all-important steam engine in the British coal mines.)

He is way to quick to dismiss the technological argument, relying on erroneous facts about coal versus wood for running steam engines and powerful machinery. In this regard he is too quick to dismiss a long established traditional literature, and never responds to the arguments made regarding this issue. Dead silence.

He is wrong to downplay the discontinuity matter. The IR was above all a profound discontinuity in the rate of real per capita growth, which was itself the outcome of a gradual accumulation of tech changes and other matters. Many of the most important events are discontinuous outcomes that arise from underlying continuous changes or forces.

Finally, I think this book is way oversold. This is one of these cases where somebody is pursuing a particular research activity, in Clark's case, digging through British wills over some centuries, and then decides that what he is studying is the end all and be all, the true explanation for all the grand events, then using half-baked and errroneous arguments to dismiss the previous lit that does not fit with his explanation. Does this mean he did not find some interesting things out? No. Does this mean his asserting his subject of study is the main cause of the IR is correct. Also, no.

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