Late to the Party
By Arnold Kling
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.
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.