Farewell to Alms Watch
By Arnold Kling
New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade writes,
Historians used to accept changes in people’s behavior as an explanation for economic events, like Max Weber’s thesis linking the rise of capitalism with Protestantism. But most have now swung to the economists’ view that all people are alike and will respond in the same way to the same incentives. Hence they seek to explain events like the Industrial Revolution in terms of changes in institutions, not people.
Dr. Clark’s view is that institutions and incentives have been much the same all along and explain very little, which is why there is so little agreement on the causes of the Industrial Revolution. In saying the answer lies in people’s behavior, he is asking his fellow economic historians to revert to a type of explanation they had mostly abandoned and in addition is evoking an idea that historians seldom consider as an explanatory variable, that of evolution.
Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the pointer.
I wrote about Gregory Clark’s new book, A Farewell to Alms, here, and I’ve mentioned in a several posts since. I submitted what I think is a pretty good review essay to a couple of economics history journals, but they do not deal in book reviews. I’m still working on finding an outlet for the essay.
Meanwhile, Tyler Cowen is going to have a book forum on the book. He seems to think that he created such demand for Clark’s book that the publisher fell behind.
By the way, I also admired Wade’s book.