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In Today's Science Times, there is a fascinating article about a new book on the Industrial Revolution that started in England in about 1800.

Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, believes that the Industrial Revolution — the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 — occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues.

The book is

"A Farewell to Alms" (Princeton University Press). Economic historians have high praise for his thesis, though many disagree with parts of it.

"This is a great book and deserves attention," said Philip Hoffman, a historian at the California Institute of Technology. He described it as "delightfully provocative" and a "real challenge" to the prevailing school of thought that it is institutions that shape economic history.

An in-depth study of available economic data from the middle ages...

The basis of Dr. Clark’s work is his recovery of data from which he can reconstruct many features of the English economy from 1200 to 1800. From this data, he shows, far more clearly than has been possible before, that the economy was locked in a Malthusian trap _ — each time new technology increased the efficiency of production a little, the population grew, the extra mouths ate up the surplus, and average income fell back to its former level.

This income was pitifully low in terms of the amount of wheat it could buy. By 1790, the average person’s consumption in England was still just 2,322 calories a day, with the poor eating a mere 1,508. Living hunter-gatherer societies enjoy diets of 2,300 calories or more.

What makes this new study interesting, and controversial, is explaining these changes as evolutionary. A leap to Darwin:

Given that the English economy operated under Malthusian constraints, might it not have responded in some way to the forces of natural selection that Darwin had divined would flourish in such conditions? Dr. Clark started to wonder whether natural selection had indeed changed the nature of the population in some way and, if so, whether this might be the missing explanation for the Industrial Revolution....

The Industrial Revolution, the first escape from the Malthusian trap, occurred when the efficiency of production at last accelerated, growing fast enough to outpace population growth and allow average incomes to rise. Many explanations have been offered for this spurt in efficiency, some economic and some political, but none is fully satisfactory, historians say.

What the downward mobility of the rich brought...

Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. "The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages," he concluded.

As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them. He has documented that several aspects of what might now be called middle-class values changed significantly from the days of hunter gatherer societies to 1800. Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped.

The Failure of Institutions

Many commentators point to a failure of political and social institutions as the reason that poor countries remain poor. But the proposed medicine of institutional reform "has failed repeatedly to cure the patient," Dr. Clark writes. He likens the "cult centers" of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to prescientific physicians who prescribed bloodletting for ailments they did not understand.

So there you have it - Our current "development" model is a disaster, and the "treatment" will only bring death more quickly.

From Hunter to Laborer

What was being inherited, in his view, was not greater intelligence — being a hunter in a foraging society requires considerably greater skill than the repetitive actions of an agricultural laborer. Rather, it was "a repertoire of skills and dispositions that were very different from those of the pre-agrarian world."

Read the rest for a bigger picture...

Originally posted to kuut nustroolboot on Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 03:30 AM PDT.


So what's our next evolutionary jump that will get us to a new viable socioeconomic-ecological paradigm?

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| 17 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  This book sounds like bullshit. (0+ / 0-)
  •  The Science Seems Wrong (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pat bunny

    Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed.

    First of all, I'm not sure at all that the rich had more surviving children than the poor. If it was true, it was only in certain periods and certain situations. The rich not only tended to limit their reproduction (can't divide that estate too many ways, especially after the option of going to the rich clergy pretty much disappeared) but tended to become pretty defective due to inbreeding. The thrust of your summary smacks of "social Darwinism," a scientifically untenable aberration of the Theory of Natural Selection used to justify the abuse of the poor by the rich.

    In Burgundy (France) there's a town called "La Machine." It's one of the places where the revolution against industrialization began. The machine was an elevator, into a mine. The poor hated it, because it killed men and spirits. The original "Luddite" wasn't a Republican trying to squash critical thinking, but a person who cared about the way science was creating tools for the abuse of workers.

    •  see the graphic in the article (0+ / 0-)
      The article does present evidence that the rich had more article than the poor, but the belief that a genetic basis for such a complex behavior could spread so quickly is unfounded.
      •  Sorry, it makes no sense scientifically (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm going to dig for reviews of the book in science journals, but two clear facts:

        First, the graphic was done from "analysis of wills." It is clear that the poor did not leave wills. So it is an extrapolation of the rich and the (very small) middle class; has nothing to do with the truly poor, and nothing to do with rural folk.

        And second, evolution doesn't happen in a hundred years, or a thousand. Again, this book is "social Darwinism" and does not relate at all to biological evolution.

        If I can find scholarly reviews, I'll post.

  •  Guys... (0+ / 0-)

    the researcher has data that shows these things.  Emperical information.  Serious scholars may be controverting his thesis, but not the contributing data.

    And I think it is less Social Darwinism and more the fact that the people that used to instruct their kids where the parents.  So, this may be cultural inheritance of attitudes, rather than genetic inheritance of Master Racehood.

    •  zero genetic data (0+ / 0-)
      the researcher has data that shows these things. ...And I think it is less Social Darwinism and more the fact that the people that used to instruct their kids where the parents.  So, this may be cultural inheritance of attitudes, rather than genetic inheritance of Master Racehood.

      But the researcher suggests the latter, without any evidence. All of the rich families would have had to have the genotype in question, which is dubious.

  •  Don't react too quickly (0+ / 0-)

    As a sociologists who was "educated" under the paradigm that culture and only culture influences human social behavior, I say read the book (when it comes out) and give it some thought.

    I was taught only humans made and used tools. I was taught only human groups had and passed on culture. I was taught only humans had a concept of self. I was taught humans were rational having escaped animal emotions (with just an occasional slip here and there).

    I was taught a lot of things that were not true.

    A yearning for the past reflects not its many wonders; rather it speaks of the present and our many blunders

    by SocioSam on Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 05:13:15 AM PDT

  •  let's see the genetic evidence (0+ / 0-)

    Dr. Clark started to wonder whether natural selection had indeed changed the nature of the population in some way and, if so, whether this might be the missing explanation for the Industrial Revolution....

    It takes more than a few generations for a genetic trait to spread, and all of the rich families would have had to have the same ancestor, or, by coincidence, different sets of mutations that led to the same traits.

    Sure, uh-huh.

    The technology exists to genotype thousands of people cheaply, and thousands of Britons have indeed been genotyped already, presumably regular folks who are mostly descended from the poor of a century or two ago. Let's get the genotypes of the rich and test the conjecture presented. My bet is that it won't be supported.

  •  Sorry, but I'm not at all convinced (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1. It falsely assumes there were significantly class-differentiated birth rates and infant mortality rates;
    1. It completely ignores the fact that the IR came AFTER breakout from the Malthusian trap, as a result of the Agricultural Revolution of the 17th/18th centuries;
    1. It shows great ignorance when it assumes the expanding proportion of rich progeny "took over the occupations" of the poor;
    1. It assumes that the changes in "mentality" needed to make industrial production work efficiently could only have come from family nurture and genetic legacy when in fact they were imposed by the organizers of the production process, through labor discipline (first through the "putting-out" cottage industrial organization of the 18th century, then through the factory system of the early 19th century).

    To be fair, I haven't read this book. But the summary presented here makes it look like a complete waste of time. If Americans had a genuine interest in and understanding of history the wouldn't fall for crap like this.

  •  Tags fixed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sarahnity, Halcyon

    Quotes should never be used in tags. Never. Slashes are also forbidden. Tags should be separated by commas.

    "Industrial Revolution" Evolution "World Bank/IMF"

    changed to

    Industrial Revolution, Evolution, World Bank, IMF

    Please check the Daily Kos FAQ for information on how to tag.

    © sardonyx; all rights reserved

    by sardonyx on Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 06:42:24 AM PDT

    •  Greg Clark (0+ / 0-)

      Clark does have fairly solid credentials, but every now and again a good scholar can produce a very sloppy, half-baked book.

      And Clark doesn't appear to be a reactionary. His views on illegal migration are fairly humane by comparison with a lot of the discourse out there. But in its Anglocentrism, its dismissal of class, and it's argument on the "genetic superiority" of the upper classes his book is likely to be taken up by arch-conservative ideologues.  

    •  tags fixed again (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sardonyx, Halcyon

      It seems somebody reverted them back to the original (wrong) format.  I fixed them again.

      Please don't change them back adding punctuation marks.  Leave them the way sardonyx posted.

      Frugal Fridays, where the cheap come to chat.

      by sarahnity on Tue Aug 07, 2007 at 10:21:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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