10 Questions for Greg Clark

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In his new book A Farewell to Alms, Greg Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, contends that “[t]he New World after the Neolithic Revolution offered economic success to a different kind of agent than had been typical in hunter-gatherer society: Those with patience, who could wait to enjoy greater consumption in the future. Those who liked to work long hours. And those who could perform formal calculations in a world of many types of inputs and outputs….”

Clark also provides archival evidence that in medieval Britain (and to a lesser extent in China and Japan) the wealthy-who presumably had those “middle class” skills in abundance-raised more children than the average person. If you put these pieces together-a system that rewards a new set of abilities, plus greater reproductive success for those who have those abilities-then all you need to get some form of selection is one more link: A transmission mechanism. On the nature of the mechanism, Clark leaves the door wide open. Could be parent-to-child cultural transmission, could be genes, could be both.

While much of the discussion of Clark’s book has focused on his “survival of the richest” hypothesis, Clark himself appears to be equally devoted to demolishing the widely-held view that economic institutions are the key to modern economic growth. He notes that the British people had solid property rights, limited government, and sound currency for centuries before they had their Industrial Revolution. Drawing on early work by Nobel Prize-winner Douglass North, he argues that economic institutions are largely endogenous and relatively efficient, at least when we’re talking about time horizons lasting a century or more. If institutional change wasn’t the driving force behind modern economic growth, then what was? In Clark’s view, the driving force was change within human beings themselves.

1. In some early work, you wondered why workers in British cotton mills were so much more productive than workers in Indian cotton mills. You discuss this in the last chapter of A Farewell to Alms. You looked at a lot of the usual explanations-incentives, management, quality of the machines-and none of them really seemed to explain the big gap in productivity. Finally, you seemed to turn to the idea that it’s differences between the British and Indian workers themselves-maybe their culture, maybe their genes-that explained the difference. How did you come to that conclusion?

Clark: I came to economics as an undergraduate expecting, as is the central view of economics, that the explanation for wealth and poverty would ultimately be located in social institutions and that people everywhere have basically the same aspirations and abilities.

But unlike most of my colleagues in economics I have always been interested in the mechanisms, and the fine details, of how things actually function. Much of modern economics is entirely theoretical, and even most empirical work in economics involves just looking at very high level correlations between variables such as income per person and education, or democracy, or the openness of trade.

When I set out in my PhD thesis to try and explain differences in income internationally in 1910 I found that asking simple questions like “Why could Indian textile mills not make much profit even though they were in a free trade association with England which had wages five times as high?” led to completely unexpected conclusions. You could show that the standard institutional explanation made no sense when you assembled detailed evidence from trade journals, factory reports, and the accounts of observers. Instead it was the puzzling behavior of the workers inside the factories that was the key.

2. Your book is clearly a call for a new research agenda in the fields of economic growth and economic history, one focusing less on institutions and more on what we might broadly call “labor quality.” But your key hypotheses seem to turn on the question of how and why entire workforces change across the centuries, and involve questions of culture, child-rearing methods, and perhaps human genetics-fields quite outside the expertise of most economists. If you could command an army of, say, biologists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists to test your hypotheses about long-term changes in labor quality, what would you have them work on?

Clark: That is a great question. If, as is possible, the pre-industrial era changed people genetically to be better adapted to market economies, then a systematic comparison of the DNA of societies should find correlations between gene frequencies and the histories of these societies. If genetic change was also occurring in historical time, as opposed to the pre-historic era, then we would expect these changes to be incomplete even in societies with a long history of settled agriculture. In that case we would actually predict class differences genetically! The rich in these societies would differ genetically from the poor in certain systematic ways! All this should be testable at some point.

If the change was purely cultural, then we still might be able to discover systematic behavioral differences between poor and rich in modern capitalist society, such as over time preference rates, that correlate with differences between rich and poor societies.

3. What do you think are the weakest links in the now-conventional “Institutions Matter” chain of reasoning?

Clark: The book challenges the modern orthodoxy of economics – that people are essentially the same everywhere, and with the right set of institutions, growth is inevitable – in three ways. First by showing that there were societies like medieval England where the institutional structure provided every incentive for growth, yet there was no growth. Second by pointing out that by objective measures the institutions of many highly successful modern economies, such as in Scandinavia, provide much poorer incentives to individuals than those of very poor economies. And lastly by showing that in the long run economic institutions that would prevent growth tend to get replaced endogenously by ones that are pro-growth.

4. You provide a variety of evidence that interest rates have fallen over the centuries; this is a fascinating set of data that we’ve discussed before at Gene Expression. Should economic historians still be searching for transaction cost stories to explain this fall in interest rates-e.g., lenders needed a high return in ancient Rome to compensate them for the high cost of searching for safe borrowers-or is that search likely to hit a dead end?

Clark: Interest rates on safe assets like houses and land fell from 25% or more in Ancient Babylon, to 10% in Ancient Greece, Roman Egypt and medieval Western Europe, to 4% in the eighteenth century in the Netherlands and England. Most economic historians assume this just represents transaction costs. But I can show in cases such as medieval England that transaction costs have nothing to do with this – the real return on investments as safe as modern Treasury Bonds was 10% or more. So I am confident that something much more fundamental was changing over these years.

5. You use data on British wills to argue that the British people of today are by and large the descendants not of peasants and not of the violent medieval aristocracy-both groups failed to reproduce themselves. Instead, the British people of today are largely the descendants of the bourgeoisie of the middle ages. Nowadays, that seems to be a testable hypothesis; have you run into genetic evidence bearing on what you call the “survival of the richest?”

Clark: I agree that, in principle, this is a completely testable hypothesis. If there was genetic change in the Malthusian era then we will find systematic differences in genes that influence behavior such as patience and propensity to violence between groups such as the British and those such as Australian Aboriginals that had no experience with settled agriculture.

However, as far as I am aware, the identification of genes that influence such behaviors is at a very early and tentative stage. The only such studies I have seen reported are those of differences across ethnic groups in variants of genes encoding monoamine oxidase enzymes.

6. How are economists reacting to the book? In particular, are there any misunderstandings that you’d like to address?

Clark: I expected a hostile and perhaps even dismissive reaction, given the controversy that the “survival of the richest” argument was bound to create, and given the attack on the modern orthodoxy amongst economists about institutions being the key to wealth and poverty. But economists who have read the book, even when they remain skeptical of the conclusions, have generally found it interesting and challenging. They have been surprised to learn in particular that the history of economies is not anything like the implicit assumptions they have, based on modern economic doctrine.

7. One implication of your model is that human populations that haven’t been through the full Neolithic Revolution are going to fail miserably when they try to build a modern market-oriented society. If people turn out to as hard to change as they appear to be-if neither culture nor genes prove to be all that malleable in the medium-run-then how would you recommend improving the lives of these people? Do you think economists can design institutions that can help make these populations productive?

Clark: Anyone who reads history cannot fail to be impressed by the difficulties that hunter-gatherers, or societies with only limited experience of settled agriculture, have in successfully incorporating into the modern capitalist economy. I spent a week in Australia this summer, and the plight of Australian Aboriginals is very sad. The surviving Aboriginal communities have seen tremendous rates of poverty, alcoholism, drug use, violence and sexual assaults.

But an important point in the book is that while some of this cultural variation may be due to the long histories of societies, there is a lot of cultural variation within these constraints that produces dramatic differences in wealth in modern societies. So there is no ground for fatalism on the possibilities for any society. The problem is that measures to reform the cultures of societies seem difficult to devise. Look at the lack of success the Chinese Communist Party had in remaking Chinese Culture. China has emerged from a period of extreme ideological indoctrination seemingly with its pre-communist love of individual wealth and status completely intact.

8. You emphasize that “[t]he argument is not that agrarian life was making people smarter.” But you also emphasize that agrarian life placed greater value on verbal and mathematical skills than hunter-gatherer life. Let’s set aside for the moment the question of whether these skill changes were cultural, environmental, or genetic. Are you claiming that the rise in math and verbal skills was counterbalanced by an equal loss of some similarly valuable hunter-gatherer mental skills? In other words, were the mental effects of the Malthusian process zero-sum? If so, what process within your model would make that occur?

Clark: I wanted to emphasize in the book that I was not advocating any kind of Social Darwinism. The long Malthusian economy that preceded the Industrial Revolution changed people, but there is no evidence it made them “better” or “smarter.” Indeed there is evidence that we did not become any happier as result of economic growth.

Anthropological accounts of forager societies suggest that people in these communities have strikingly developed powers of observation and memory (as well as an amazing ability to endure pain) – they are just not abilities that the modern market economy places much value upon.

9. Bowles, Camerer, and an interdisciplinary research team led a series of ultimatum-game studies in pre-modern societies; the found incredibly diverse outcomes. By contrast, across modern societies, ultimatum game play is much more similar, so it looks like the modern world really is a world of conformity, at least on this topic. How do you think their experimental evidence bears on your question of whether the “long Malthusian night,” as you call it, selected for a certain set of behaviors and attitudes?

Clark: I have seen these results reported, but had not thought of relating them to the arguments of the book. I would have expected that pre-modern societies would have had a common response, but potentially a different response than in modern societies. So I do not think I could call this any kind of vindication of the hypothesis in the book.

10. What’s the next project?

Clark: I always have several going at the same time. One is a follow up to the “survival of the richest” study for England reported in the book which will look more closely at the intergenerational transmission of economic success with a much larger set of data, and seek to show through examination of the effects of family size that the mechanism is indeed almost entirely the transmission of culture or genes. This study will also look over the whole period 1600-1914 and examine when and why richer men ceased to have more children than average and began to have less. I would love to use this data to try to tease out whether we have just cultural evolution as opposed to genetic – I just cannot think of any way to do that!

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  1. Thanks,  
    Very interesting interview! Its good to see some alternative thinking in Economics.

  2. I’m still trying to figure out what mystery he’s trying to solve. If it’s why the industrial revolution started in England rather than, say, Germany or France, although the latter two proved equally capable of mastering it, then why does putative selection for time preference explain that? And if the mystery is why much of Eurasia industrialized successfully while much of the rest of the world did not, how much of an answer can a 600-year slice of one apparently atypical island country’s history provide?

  3. I’m still trying to figure out what mystery he’s trying to solve.  
    if you read the book you’ll note he deemphasizes the ‘industrial revolution.’ rather, broadly he describes the world that is in a ‘malthusian trap,’ which england first breaks out of.

  4. I believe the world was in a kind of Malthusian trap at the end of the Paleolithic, from which the Neolithic Revolution (practice of agriculture) offered an escape. So why isn’t “the industrial revolution” just another name for this second escape?

  5. I believe the world was in a kind of Malthusian trap at the end of the Paleolithic, from which the Neolithic Revolution (practice of agriculture) offered an escape. 
    no, the agricultural populations were also in the trap. and again, clark doesn’t really believe that the industrial revolution was a particular inflection point.

  6. he describes the world that is in a ‘malthusian trap,’ which england first breaks out of. 
    Okay, but does England break out before Germany/France/etc because of the “survival of the richest” paradigm that reigned for one particular 600-year period, or is it more or less accidental that England preceded Germany, but not accidental that England preceded, say, Ethiopia, because of selective pressures on Eurasian agricultural societies over the course of 10000 years? The latter seems more likely to be true (although surely not an original idea), but I fail to see how the English evidence provides much support for it. One would want to see evidence of time-preference selection over a long period across Eurasian cultures, and its absence in non-Eurasian regions.

  7. he seems to be saying the former. i think that particular case is weak. as someone on another blog said clark does a good job of smashing myths, but is less successful generating a counter-narrative.

  8. One reason to be suspicious of a genetic cause specifically in England is that so many other nations matched or even surpassed the English once the threshold had been crossed.  
    Most notably the Irish, who are now very prosperous, and who were very successful in the US and Australia even when Ireland was still impoverished. A century and a half ago the Irish were still thought of as almost hopelessly backward. 
    Besides proposing genetic causes on an ad hoc basis wherever there an effect is seen, an overriding narrative has to be developed. It seems to me that Clark’s theory conflicts with most other genetic theories of history. 
    Economic institutions plus religious ideology strikes me as a better explanation. However, with a phenomenon as complex as economic development, it would seem that there are a dozen or more factors organized in a complex branching cascade, with none of them sufficient and not all of them necessary (even if they did contribute in a particular instance.)

  9. Good interview. The moral I draw from Clark’s work is that institutions matter both more and less than people think — less in the short-term because quality of labor is the variable of largest effect in the growth equation and isn’t very malleable on “political” timescales, but more in the long-term because institutions shape what sort of human capital you have over the course of many generations.  
    I’m interested in his arguments that “in the long run economic institutions that would prevent growth tend to get replaced endogenously by ones that are pro-growth”, which seems to me to have been the least-discussed part of the book so far. Not having read it yet it’s not clear to me just how he argues this, or what sort of mechianism he proposes to explain this. 
    I have one quibble. Clark says that “there is evidence that we did not become any happier as result of economic growth” — I have no idea where this statement comes from. There can’t be much historical evidence since nobody was doing happiness surveys before the late 20th century, and modern international comparisons clearly indicate that developed democratic market economies are pretty much the happiest places on earth. Eight of the top ten scorers in the World Values Survey are OECD nations*, and if you look at the whole data set the correlation between happiness and GDP is pretty strong.  
    * The other two are Latin American nations, which in general are oddly disproportionately represented in the top 40 compared to what their GDP would predict. Latinos are just happier people, I guess.

    Economic institutions plus religious ideology strikes me as a better explanation.
    clark is not a fan of the religious ideology explanation. he suggests that there isn’t an increase in the rate of the rate of change that coincides with any particular such ideological transformation. i tend to be skeptical of this idea as well because the models generally ended up false after the fact (e.g., webber posited that east asia would never develop because of its religious ideology). but like you said, it’s complicated. 
    in the long run economic institutions that would prevent growth tend to get replaced endogenously by ones that are pro-growth 
    e.g., religious injunctions against usury and what not. work arounds always emerge when necessity presents itself. look at the idiocy of ‘islamic banking.’

  11. btw, clark doesn’t exposit on this detail. but it seems empirically certified that even if england broke out of the trap first for some particular reason, obviously other nations then were able to lift off too (perhaps information transfer?).

  12. I’m mainly wondering about how they emerge and what makes them necessary, though. I can imagine situations where growth-impeding institutions persist for a long time, and their gradual dissolution doesn’t seem to be intrinsically inevitable. Competition seems like an obvious driver here, I’m just curious about how Clark characterizes the dynamics.

  13. I can imagine situations where growth-impeding institutions persist for a long time, and their gradual dissolution doesn’t seem to be intrinsically inevitable. 
    how long?

  14. I think we’re in a Malthusian trap, too, we just haven’t touched the boundaries of the earth’s carrying capacity within the current paradigm. I suspect that early agrarian societies were also an escape for several generations. In hindsight, this was a temporary condition. 
    It may be that we’ll avoid touching the upper bounds of population, but if so, it will likely take a conscious decision on the part of society and governments to limit population by controlling human reproduction.

  15. I think we’re in a Malthusian trap, too, we just haven’t touched the boundaries of the earth’s carrying capacity within the current paradigm. I suspect that early agrarian societies were also an escape for several generations. In hindsight, this was a temporary condition. 
    well, population will stabilize by the mid-end of this century. so we know roughly the short term bound. of course it could decrease or grow in the long term. the diff. between now and early ags is their high incomes were on the frontier of advance where there were resources a plenty to absorb high population growth. american whites in the 1700s are probably a good analog, they kept multiplying at astounding rates as long as the frontier existed and there was decent arable land. but the modern situation involves not just increased rates of productivity, but concomitant declines in fertility. there are long term darwinian reasons to suspect that this decline will reverse itself, but probably not before population starts decreasing a bit.

  16. Clarck says hunter0gatherers have impressive memories. I thought memory was significantly correlated with IQ and hunter-gatherers generally had the lowest IQs.

  17. memory for what? ;-) my mom has a good memory for all her cousins and second cousins and so on. i don’t. whose the retard now?

  18. population will stabilize by the mid-end of this century 
    Don’t count on it. Right now a lot of people obviously choose not to have kids, or choose not to have many. But the corollary is that there is presumably a lot of selection favoring whatever genetic makeup is correlated with having more kids in spite of modern society. The two most obvious sets I can think of don’t necessarily have huge implications for overall fertility levels. One would be various marginal religious groups (Hutterites, Hasidim and so on). They are relatively small, and it’s also not clear whether descendants that left the religious environment would tend to have more children than average. The second group would be just poor people generally; but without knowing more about *why* poor people have more children the long term prospect for the fertility of the poor is not clear. 
    But even if we only think about relatively average people, I think there’s clearly selection going on that favors people who just like kids. Unless this largely learned (environmental somehow), which I doubt, I think you can look forward to increasing numbers of people who have big families, and these people will ultimately swamp the fertility-reducing effects of modern society. 
    Of course, even fifty years from now there may be Child Emulator Robots that provide a satisfactory substitute for these people, or else they’ll be living in tanks and playing ‘Extended Family IV’ by neural implant. I can’t count out the power of consumer technology to satisfy peoples’ desires at low cost (i.e. without the mess of actual kids). But you shouldn’t count out selection when making these hundred-year projections…

  19. bbart, i know there is selection (thought that differs from country to country, e.g., germany and italy about about the same TFR, but germany exhibits a lot more reproductive skew in the distribution, so you assume more selection for fertility is going on). i am skeptical that it will reverse the inertia of the current pattern since the rate of increase is still decreasing in the countries where it counts (third world). the countries where bounce back will happen first cuz of selection will be relatively small contributions demographically by the mid 21st century (e.g., europe is only 11% of the world’s pop right now).

  20. The religious explanation (Protestant ethic) has been in the doghouse for some time because it isn’t really an independent variable. But there really aren’t independent variable is this kind of thing. 
    Phenomena where you can say “The cause is X” actually aren’t typical. Scientists look for phenomena of that type, because that’s where success is to be found, but for some questions that kind of answer probably isn’t available.

  21. Of course, even fifty years from now there may be Child Emulator Robots that provide a satisfactory substitute for these people, or else they’ll be living in tanks and playing ‘Extended Family IV’ by neural implant. I can’t count out the power of consumer technology to satisfy peoples’ desires at low cost (i.e. without the mess of actual kids).  
    We have child emulators now. They’re called “pets” and they’re very efficient at mopping up the middle and upper classes’ excess maternal and paternal instinct. :-) 
    Child emulators like the kid in AI would just be creepy.

  22. “how long?” 
    3500 years? :) 
    Seriously though, I think of it in terms of an ESS — a population just has to get itself locked into a suboptimal situation that’s self-perpetuating, whether for endogenous or exogenously imposed reasons. If there’s a whole lot of competition both within and between groups then of course eventually someone will start doing better and break the ESS, but this isn’t a given a priori.

  23. population just has to get itself locked into a suboptimal situation that’s self-perpetuating, whether for endogenous or exogenously imposed reasons. 
    clark basically implies that many societies were incentivized from 1200 onward without the lift off. he also notes that many modern nations are less incentivized then they were. he covers the idea that there was a equilibrium society that was locked in the trap and basically rejects it. so you can agree with him or disagree. i don’t know enough economic history to offer much relevant comment ;-)

  24. Clark’s story tracks well to some manner of pseudo-Foucaultian narrative which locates modernity in the development of powerful micro-technologies for disciplining individuals. The systemic enforcement of norms which favor rational+orderly labor and long-term time preferences could only be enabled, in this account, by the development of an efficient and decentralized apparatus for regulating deviations from that norm.  
    In other words, institutions do matter, but you have to be careful about which institutions you focus on–the rule of law et. al. only matters if you have the mechanisms in place for consistent and efficient compulsion.

  25. Clarck says hunter0gatherers have impressive memories 
    Yes, impressive visual memories (at least true for Au Abs and Eskimos): 
    Interesting given their [Australian Aborigines] much lower intelligence, then, that their visual memory abilities are substantially superior – one researcher found a visual memory IQ of 119. Genetics are further suggested because the advantage is also true for very young children and for aborigines born into modern urban settings… 
    Even in Marshall’s book there is discussion of the Eskimos ability to draw detailed maps from memory. Like the Australian Aborigines, with whom they share a recent hunter-gatherer lifestyle, Lynn shows the Arctic people have an elevated visual memory IQ of 106.

  26. But perhaps not as good emotional memories: 
    More Swiss than Rwandans have a gene for unusually good emotional memory 
    I think I saw that in the gnxp forum.

  27. Most notably the Irish, who are now very prosperous, and who were very successful in the US and Australia even when Ireland was still impoverished. A century and a half ago the Irish were still thought of as almost hopelessly backward. 
    Yes, the CIA World Factbook lists Ireland’s GDP per capita as $44,500 and the UK’s as $31,800, which almost seems unbelievable. 
    Any update on average IQ in Ireland? According to Jason’s post that he links to above (from early last year): 
    But there also appear to be some differences too – Ireland, Portugal and Lithuania all have IQs, unlike their neighbors, in the low 90s. Multiple studies give similar results showing the scores are ‘reliable’ if not ‘valid’ (Ireland for instance has three studies with large standardization samples showing very similar results). 
    I guess we should expect a significant increase in Ireland’s *mesaured* average IQ and if not, that would lead to a very interesting comparison with the UK.

  28. British saving habits reported by BBC this week: 
    “One in four people fails to save any money at all and most who do use the cash for a holiday, a study suggests. 
    The Post Office research indicated that a third of people did save, but not on a monthly basis. 
    Just over a quarter of those who did not save said they had too many debts to pay and a fifth simply spent it all. 
    Office for National Statistics figures released in June showed Britons were saving proportionately less of their income than at any time for 50 years.”
    Too bad they couldn’t ask for a cheek swab as well to test Clark’s ideas (assuming the resources and technology of course).

  29. Desert Aboriginal people locating water sources from memory throughout their nomadic range is a pretty impressive demonstration of their visual memory and spatial abilities. White people can’t do it without accurate maps and navigational equipment. Some of it is taught skill and handed down collective memory, but the ability to navigate over long distances in desert terrain lacking distinctive landmarks and locate previously known small waterholes or places to dig seems like it must be inbuilt. 
    Arctic people’s ability to navigate without maps or instruments in a similarly seemingly featureless (and changing) landscape would suggest similar faculties. 
    Selection favouring these abilities (or loss of them in other people) must have been a relatively quick process. I guess once you are a sedentary farmer you no longer need to be able to navigate further than the pea patch.

  30. “A sexual encounter trumps doing the grocery shopping.” 
    This is neuroscience? Seems quite easy – maybe I’m in the wrong business.

  31. There was a study done at an Australian preschool with 4 year olds. They asked them, “Point toward your home” and something like 60% of the Aborigine children got it right vs. some tiny % of white kids.  
    I can generally point toward home during the daytime, but not at night. My father, who is a pretty competent outdoorsman, and I walked about 100 yards into a dense jungle in Mexico one day when I was seven. He suddenly panicked, fearing we were lost. I calmly took him by the hand and led him back to the road, coming out about 15 feet from the car. So, I’d probably make an okay Abo, at least in that regard.

  32. I suspect that differences in personality and institutions between England and the European Continent are explained more by England being an island than by anything else. That’s the underlying theme of Paul Johnson’s 1972 leftist/patriot history of England “The Offshore Islanders.” Life in England was relatively secure from marauders, at least over the last 900 years, which might explain the greater English emphasis on liberty than on the Continent, where the trade-off between liberty and security was more tilted in the direction of security.

  33. In any case, both the Hutus and the Tutsi are Bantu speakers, the Hutus being farmers and the Tutsi being pastoralists.

  34. I suspect that differences in personality and institutions between England and the European Continent are explained more by England being an island than by anything else. 
    yes. also genetically an island tends to be much more isolated. even one as close to the continent as britain, simply because village-to-village mate transfers are harder when you have to cross water. so the reduced gene flow can result in population substructure building up through drift or selection.

  35. An Englishman told me he once saw a headline in a British newspaper that read “Fog Over Channel – Europe Isolated”.

  36. A population becomes mature for the industrial revolution after having a complete run of the Neolithic revolution. It makes sense to me. But then the Neolithic Revolution started in places like Upper Egypt, Anatolia, the Jordan Valley, etc. much earlier than in England. But industrialization did not happen spontaneously and these people have great difficulty in living in an industrial society. Egypt, specifically, and Greece, had agricultural economies – and possibly Malthusian economies – going longer than England. I admire Clark’s research, but then, somehow it is not a complete answer. Maybe there is a need for a 1000 years of continuity and stability, which other centres never enjoyed. The stability of Anglosaxon societies (even in the USA) is something very unusual in history.

  37. PS: In fact, Industrial Revolution should have emerged first somewhere in Anatolia or Syria. I dont count in Mesopotamia, where the aboriginal population was exterminated by the Mongols.

  38. But then the Neolithic Revolution started in places like Upper Egypt, Anatolia, the Jordan Valley, etc. much earlier than in England. 
    I was thinking along these lines too. In particular: Scandinavia and Finland. Agriculture came pretty late to them, but they are some of the world’s most successful economies. It must be that evolution can work quite fast…

  39. It must be that evolution can work quite fast… 
    David, the internet medium does not conduce humor or irony. What are you trying to say?  
    Clark’s research and theory make intuitive sense. But if a period of 1,000 years in a Malthusian meatmincing machine produces a population ready for industrial revolution, then I would propose the MesoAmerican and Andean cultures as prime candidates. If you need an island, you have Sicily or Cyprus peopled by smart Greeks.

  40. What I fail to understand is that if you set up a system that points every country into a Malthusian trap, add some uncertainty, yet give every country identical initial conditions and identical population, some country is going to break out first just by having better luck (so to speak) so I’m not sure that analysing what made that particular country more successful is necessarily fruitful – what’s wrong with saying luck? 
    I’d better read the book! (after the 1000 others I’d better read too)

  41. ‘points’? I meant puts

  42. Every time I open GNXP I see that picture of Scott Baio’s dad. 
    It’s been days, new thread already!

  43. looc, why don’t you use RSS?

  44. I think I stumbled across RSS the other day not knowing exactly what it was. 
    Good point razib!

  45. google reader is pretty good. here is the rss loc. in case you can’t find it: 

  46. Child labor in early nineteenth-century England had both a training effect (culture) and selected workers for adult work across one life cycle. The evidence indicates that this had a big effect on labor quality. See Child Labor and the Division of Labor in the Early English Cotton Mills.

    From my own experience, I can’t help but think that a significant fraction of the consumerism found in the USA is related to immigration.  
    Five years ago, we moved tribe from Seattle to West Palm Beach, Florida. A year into the move I was made CEO of a company in Miami. Much to our amazement, Miami proper, not South Beach, is perhaps the worst city in the United States. Miami is a cesspool of indifference and unlimited corruption on even the smallest transaction level. After three years, we took our savings and moved North 120 miles to St. Lucie County.  
    In Miami I was surrounded by immigrants that think and behave differently than your typical American yuppie. Now in St. Lucie county I have found plenty of rednecks, but also rather unexpectedly, a mass of immigrants (many Haitians) that have fled Miami. The result is that we are either fully or somewhat trapped wherever we go. We are trapped because these newcomers force many changes along the way and many of those changes are found within the schools where our children attend. It is as if we cannot have a stable life with people that share similar values and customs. For example, we have to modify the way we raise our children to accomodate the presence of so many different cultures. This means that so much of what my wife and I hold dear will end with us. That may be the way of the world, but I bet it’s not that way in Finland or Iceland. The net effect is a serious case of quasi-depression and indifference.  
    My family has been on this soil for more than 300 years and I never forget, or even fail to mention during Thanksgiving, the sacrifices that have lead to the unbelievable prosperity found within my family. To look around and see all that has been burdensomely earned, thrown out the window by the powers that be is very sad. That is my perspective. Now for my Thai/white American wife. She feels 10x worse than I do! She cannot take it and often observes the lack of normality, decency and share ethics.  
    In a nutshell, the lack of savings in Anglo societies might be related to immigrant-induced depression or indifference towards an uncertain future. Watching your heritage transplated by something you consider substandard is not so easy. Of course, Anglo people might be predisposed to spending, but that idea just doesn’t add up when I look around.  

  48. Not to think that the whole approach of the effect on economic institutions effecting the gene pool not a topic worthy of investigation, but saying the institutions did not bring about the Industrial Revolution is, I think, a bit off base. 
    The key thing that a modern might not get about life in the past is the extent to which economies weren’t monetized, or relied on barter. As late as 1789 French peasants paid ‘taxes’ to the king in the form of labor on the king’s highways. One cannot have a modern, or specialized economy without barter being eliminated as a means of trade. Eliminating barter means that money must be convenient and cheap way of effecting transactions. 
    One might think that having coins as money is good enough for this, but that would be false. For this to occur, one needs sound paper money, coins aren’t convenient enough. Gold and silver coins are better than a cattle for grain type trade, but they are still pretty bad, they are bulky and difficult to transport. The first ones to actually create sound paper money, paper money that people would accept, either in the form of checks drawn on a bank account, or as bank notes that one, if one wanted to, believed that one could, if necessary, exchange with the issuing bank for coins, cold hard cash, at par, were the Dutch. I cannot remember what the Dutch called their ‘central bank’ their invention that enabled sound paper money and money subs, or ‘credit’ in the parlance of the day, for reasons too long to go into in a paragraph, but that was the reason that tiny Holland swung such a big bat in the 1600′s. England imported the idea along with William of Orange in 1688, the Bank of England dates to 1693. 
    The establishment of the BofE also allowed the English to copy from the Dutch that awesome weapon of modern warfare, the negotiable debt instrument, or a national debt in the modern sense of the word. A national debt is also quite useful for the purpose of further monetizing one’s economy, ‘sound’ paper that can be easily and cheaply used for collateral for loans. The current brouhaha on Wall Street is a reminder that this state of affairs isn’t always the case. 
    I note in the interview that Mr. Clark notes the low interest rates on commercial bank loans in 18th century Holland and Britain. A collateralized bank loan is not ‘risk capital’, like financing a ship bound for Shanghai, what the bank is lending to the borrower is the use of a cash balance, it is renting money to the borrower. Money, a very useful thing because barter stinks, was much more efficiently created and delivered because of their banking systems, which countries like France did not possess, therefore it’s price was much lower. 
    Without the ‘new’ for that time banking system the Industrial Revolution doesn’t happen. A smart American, Alexander Hamilton, noticed this too.

  49. I’m astounded that this comment from Gregory Clark: “However, as far as I’m aware, the identification of genes that influence such behavior is at a very early and tentative stage” [in relation to genetic evidence for Survival of the Richest]has hardly caused a ripple. 
    This is Gene Expression forum is it not?  
    For some reason, there appears to be a willingness here to conflate Gregory Clark’s theory with racial IQ theories. The latter do at least have a history of research to back them though it is largely discredited.  
    I ask two questions: 
    1) On what grounds is it reasonable or possible to interchange the IQ debate with Gregory Clark’s totally unproven and untested theory. 
    2) Could someone who supports Mr. Clark define “Richest” as a scientific term and further, outline a methodology whererby Gregory Clark’s theory about “Survival of the Richest” could be tested?