Solow on Gregory Clark
By Arnold Kling
Clive Crook quotes from Robert Solow’s review of Gregory Clark’s book.
Clark’s pessimism about closing the gap between the successful and less successful economies may derive from the belief that nothing much can change unless and until the mercantile and industrial virtues seep down into a large part of the population, as he thinks they did in preindustrial England. That could be a long wait. If that is his basic belief, it would seem to be roundly contradicted by the extraordinary sustained growth of China and, a bit more recently, India. Embarrassingly for Clark, both of those success stories seem to have been set off by institutional changes, in particular moves away from centralized control and toward an open-market economy.
Overall, the tone of the review is quite negative. In Solow’s view, where Clark is being sound he is not being new and where he is being new he is not being sound. It is amusing to see Solow rise to the defense of Douglass North, who can hardly be Solow’s favorite economist.
Clark’s own pugnaciousness probably helps provoke this sort of reaction. If Clark were more generous to other economists, then other economists would be more inclined to be generous to him.
When all is said and done, I think that Clark’s observation that India did not develop a cotton manufacturing industry in spite of having access to British capital and British management is worth pondering. He provides both direct and indirect evidence for his quality-of-labor story.
On the other hand, I agree with Solow that Clark’s claim that Britain’s industrial revolution reflected the bourgeoisie outbreeding the other classes is a large conjecture resting on rather flimsy evidence. I think that Clark succeeds in putting labor quality into play. He fails if he thinks that he has driven every other causal factor off the field.
UPDATE: A commenter points to Samuel Bowles, who makes a number of critical comments on Clark, including
if h2 = 0.26 the correlation across 4 generations (great grandfather-great grandson) is 0.032. If we estimate h2 from the observed intergenerational correlation of traits (r) as above, then the correlation of a genetically transmitted trait across n generations is just r/2n -2. Thus the statistical association across generations becomes vanishingly small over the course of a single century, whether the trait is culturally or genetically transmitted.
I sense that this argument is a swindle, but I cannot find the flaw.