Arnold Kling  

My Review of Gregory Clark

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Is on the Claremont Review web site (it did not make the dead-tree publication).

How is it that in the 19th century, England came to have dominion over so many lands and so many peoples? Though he uses modern quantitative methods, economic historian Gregory Clark reverts to a Victorian answer: the superiority of what Winston Churchill was fond of calling "our island race."

...His quantitative techniques for demonstrating such phenomena as the innumeracy of pre-industrial humanity and the evolution of the speed of information flows are clever. However, the contest between institutional accounts of economic performance and Clark's cultural explanation is probably best resolved through a synthesis. Clark's attempt at a winner-take-all for cultural Darwinism falls short.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
arthas writes:

Excited about reading what i thought would be a sequel to Guns Germs & Steel, i picked up this book. I am at half of the book and am repudiated by the book.
At one page, the author has a photo of a white traveller among black porters & guides going for a trip somewhere in africa. he insinuates that those small sized blacks are not as good as white traveller. the fact taht urban living conditions and changes in dietary habit contributed to growh in average size of people (like japan or korea of today) doesnt even enter into the discussion. similarly the book has detailed size & weight statistics of different ethnicity not necessarily in positive light towards other ethnicities than his.
whats even worse, he goes on to assert that due to disease war & living conditions, people died in 17/18th century england n this created wealth to the ones who survived. this theory is simply INHUMANE.
while explaining growth in england, the author misses basic points.
-the first is that u need an accumulation of technologies so as to have a momentum of growth. with wheel u can make a cart but not car, for that u need IC engine, which in turn needs combustion technology and oil. For oil, u need drilling technology n access route to oil fields. a move from cart to car has more to do with accumulation of relevant technologies than environmental factors of stable regime & work ethics.
-secondly, the insularity of island have one advantage to UK. they were less prone to attacks by other warmongering states. besides england had a naval superiority above other countries of that time. so this security has a vital role for the stability of the country, which is completely ignored.

-thirdly, judging by the approach of the author, its impossible to have economic development in the less developed parts of the third world. institutions, values & other stuffs are less relevant that highlighted by author. u can take examples of australia or even us which in about a century catched up and even exceeded england. How on earth the isrealites managed to create a technologically advanced & rich economy in less than 50 yrs? the answer to this last question might put this book simply into the archive

BGC writes:

My feeling is that AK somewhat mis-characterizes the key issue in his conclusion.

The key point at issue concerns the truth of a statement like: "All human differences can be explained by incentives, history, and luck."

Clark (convincingly, I believe) argues that this statement is untrue, and that humans differ significantly for genetic reasons.

Besides this, the precise balance of genetics and institutions in causing the indistrial revolution and economic growth is a secondary issue.

Buzzcut writes:

I just ordered this from my library.

I also recently ordered "Crisis of Abundance" from Amazon. I bought "The Undercover Economist" and "The Future and its Enemies" as well, to get the free shipping. None were available at my library, so I'll be donating them after I'm done.

Ajay writes:

I don't think the fact that migrants from the third world do well in the first world is proof that anybody from the third world would do well in the first world, as Arnold states. If you actually examine who these migrants are, you will see that it is often the smarter or more accomplished members of the third world who can even afford to migrate. These third world elites have a difficult choice, either try to build the institutions that have been proven in the first world in their own country and fight against the giant tide of poverty, all to live a lifestyle equivalent to a lower-middle class person in the first world. Or, migrate to the first world and live a much better lifestyle doing the type of often cutting-edge work that you will not get to do in the third world. Unsurprisingly, many choose the latter, despite the fact that they will never socially fit in with their new culture.

As for the book itself, I have not read it but I think Clark has to be even more multi-disciplinary and actually examine the cultures he's talking about in order to reach any conclusion. What evidence is there in the respective popular cultures of the time that some cultures were more industrious than others? Because there are many other plausible reasons for the differences in productivity. Maybe the Indians resented their British overseers and didn't feel the need to work that hard for them. Maybe the jump from a agricultural society to an industrial one is a jarring change that takes decades to get used to, whether in the third world or the UK. Human society is complex and one has to examine all these possibilities in an extremely multi-disciplinary way in order to come up with conclusions. I have not read A Farewall to Alms but Arnold never talks about this stuff in his references to the book, so I doubt Clark has really done the work necessary to reach the conclusions he would like to reach.

Vorpal Blade writes:

Ajay is right. Kling wrote:

Clark is suggesting that institutional change in underdeveloped countries is very costly-indeed, so costly that we have no reliable way by which it can be accomplished. On the other hand, taking people out of the underdeveloped world seems to enable them to quickly shed their backwardness.

Kling continued:

This would seem to belie the notion that industriousness arises only from a gradual process of selective breeding.

Kling lacked space to provide examples, but he might have been thinking of the experience of immigrants to the USA from low-development countries. However, that experience does not falsify the notion that industriousness has a substantial genetic component. Primary immigrants to the USA are highly selected for traits (determination, industriousness) which help them succeed economically. The relatives which eventually join them or spring from their loins are not so selected; they show substantial reversion toward a less industrious mean.

Really, Kling's suggestion has a worse flaw. We cannot readily examine the relationship between economic institutions and partly- genetically- determined character traits by observing a few "type X" people extracted from a low-industriousness group and embedded in a matrix of high-industriousness "type Y" people. However well the X's manage to fit in, they are still conforming under social pressure to a high-industriousness culture ("institutions") maintained by the Y's. That experiment can't show whether an independent group of X's would be likely to adopt or maintain Y-type culture (institutions).

Pedant writes:

On the other hand, taking people out of the underdeveloped world seems to enable them to quickly shed their backwardness.
No, selective migration allows the cream of the crop to put their skills to better use. African-Americans lag far behind the majority after many generations, as do Hispanics (I can't say much about Native Americans since so many live on reservations) who have lived for quite a long time in New Mexico. Garret Jones has shown that the average IQ of immigrants home countries is a good predictor of how succesfull they will be here. It's true that many Irish and Japanese immigrated to the U.S when their countries were poor and they are no longer near the bottom of the heap. It is also true that Ireland and Japan are quite wealthy countries these days.

artocrat writes:

Walter Russell Mead's "God and Gold" provides a good framework for this discussion.

ChrisA writes:

I have read the book sometime ago, and I keep thinking about it but I still haven't decided whether the basic thesis is correct (that the differences in national wealth are due to differences in character). I have lived in many developing countries over the past 15 years, and invariably the quality of the average worker is poor, outweighing any compensation of lower wages. For instance in Egypt, most expats look for Filopino maids rather than employ the locals, at 5 times the cost. Those that try to buck this approach usually regret it. It is simply not worth the lower productivity of employing the locals. I can think of many examples where, even decades after an industry has been established in most developing countries, likely there will be expats in the leadership - at probably 10 to 50 times the cost of the locals. This is true in hotels, oil and gas and other extractive industries. The fact that these costs have not been competed away is a good support for Clarks theory. OTH we have examples of long time poor countries (eg Ireland, Spain, Korea, Taiwan) which suddenly become rich, surely their genes or culture didn't change overnight? And no-one can say that good institutions and incentives are at least necessary if not sufficient after the recent experience of China. One thing I wonder is if signalling can be driving some of the lower productivity, for instance in a less developed country the investment is usually led by an outsider, in which case how can they interpret who is good or bad? In the case of the expat maids, being Filipino in Cairo is a good signal to an expat, Egyptian maids are not able to provide any such signal, and therefore no-one is willing to hire them at high rates therefore there is no incentive on them to raise their game so to speak.

Steve Roth writes:

IMHO, neither Clark nor Diamond's arguments manage to rise above the statistical noise.

IOW, after millenia, eventually some culture was going to hit the steep rise in exponential growth--a rise that happened in just a few centuries. Many factors might affect which culture that was.

Determining which factors caused a given culture to get there first is like determining which point on the american coast would get the first hurricane hit in a given season--far too many factors involved to point to any particular factor, or small set of factors.

Clark and Diamond's (quite transparently ax-grinding) arguments fail to convince me that they're any better than positing "the luck of the draw."

ChrisA writes:


You may be right about that industrialisation had to happen sooner or later to one country. But now it has happened to one, why hasn't it spread to all other countries? Clark is very persuasive in showing that India for instance in the middle of the 19C had pretty much the same incentives for investment as the UK (access to capital, rule of law etc) but India did not (and still hasn't) got industrialised. There must be some other missing factor that allows for industrialisation, if we knew what it was perhaps we can raise more people to a decent standard of living.

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