Arnold Kling  

Late to the Party

Popular Putin's Persecutions: ... Race and IQ Pushback...

The New York Times gets around to giving a review to Gregory Clark's book, which I called one of the two high-impact economics books of 2007. Ben Friedman writes,

he repeatedly insists that this was the world in which humans, everywhere, lived for eons: “Living standards in 1800, even in England,” he writes, “were likely no higher than for our ancestors of the African savannah.” After this prelude, however, discovering that the Industrial Revolution is consistent with a Darwinian explanation because it occurred so gradually comes as something of a surprise.

Clark’s hypothesis also raises a troubling question about the future, albeit one he doesn’t mention. If the key to economic progress in the past was the survival of the richest, what is in store now that the richest no longer outbreed everyone else? As he notes in passing, in most high-income countries today family income bears no systematic relation to the number of children produced.

...Let’s hope that the human traits to which he attributes economic progress are acquired, not genetic, and that the countries that grow in population over the next 50 years turn out to be good at imparting them. Alternatively, we can simply hope he’s wrong.

Or perhaps we can hope that the other high-impact book, Bryan's Myth of the Rational Voter, convinces intelligent people to be skeptical of popular democracy.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen finds another review, by Deirdre McCloskey. That is worth reading in its entirety. Her conclusion:

What mattered in modern economic growth was not a doubtfully measured alteration in the abilities of English people but a radical change 1600-1776, “measurable” in every play and pamphlet, in what England wanted, what England paid, what England valued.

Another UPDATE: Don't miss TGGP vs. McCloskey.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
muirgeo writes:

First congratulations on Bryans book making it to the FT's best of the year.

But again I'd argue the best economies and lifestyles ever came from our current popular democracies.

If not popular democracy what? Elite rule? Popular democracy seems a better way to get the good genes reproduced while elitism seemed to stagnant both culture and the gene pool.

Still today a not-so-bright person from a good family can make it to the top to lead the country while much better talent often toils at really productive measures while being compensated poorly and maybe with no significant health coverage to protect his gene pool.

Yes I think we need more democracy and better democracy not less.

Bruce G Charlton writes:

Sorry, AK - I must be feeling more than usually obtuse, today - but I don't understand your point here.

James writes:


The "best economies and lifestyles" come from individuals cooperating in markets characterized by generally secure property rights. That these economies and lifestyles happened to coincide in many cases with democratic governments is true enough, but it would be a mistake to claim that democracy is responsible for causing healthy economies and desirable lifestyles absent some theory as to why letting people vote on how to allocate other people's resources would lead anyone to produce more resources than they otherwise would.

Taimyoboi writes:

"As he notes in passing, in most high-income countries today family income bears no systematic relation to the number of children produced."

I'm not sure the break down falls along the line between family income and children produced. I think demographic trajectories suggest these days that it falls along the lines of conservative/religious and liberal/secular, even in modern, Western nations.

That doesn't suggest a disappearance of the kinds of traits that drive growth, just a disappearance of the kinds of growth that drive NY Times readership.

Matt writes:

I read the Deirdre McCloskey review, and she points out that the selection of parental traits is dissipated within a few generations. The "time constant" for Clarks theory implies everything happened over a 100 year period.

Clark's theory does not hold up under a short time constant.

My theory still likely holds.

TGGP writes:

I reviewed McCloskey's review here and discussed the "regression to the mean" part.

What's your theory, Matt?

David writes:

I have read several reviews of this thesis. None seem to have noticed a huge and glaring hole in it. McCloskey comes very close to the problem.

The thesis postulates widespread genetic replacement. This will be detectable in the genes if it actually occurred. It is possible to 'see' the effect of the Roman invasion in England in the genes.

This genetic replacement simply isn't there.

This argument sounds very like a rehash of the debate in the 1960s about the advent of agriculture in Europe. Was it culture or genetics? It was culture. This conclusion has been supported by a multitude of studies which have formed the framework for similar studies elsewhere in the world.

McCloskey is correct. If this situation was genetic then it would remain limited to where the population was. This would not explain the industrial revolutions in France, Germany and elsewhere - let alone the rise of the US.

Im afraid this hypothesis is simply 'junk science'.

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