8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
puts the gloom back in the dismal science,
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This review is from: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) (Paperback)
Dear Professor Clark
I began your book with excitement. At last, an explanation of the industrial revolution, a timely reminder that Malthus was right, even though we were always taught that as soon as he founded economic science conditions changed and made Malthus wrong. From the perspective of quantitative economic history (your speciality) we can now see that the Malthusian trap is the default condition of humanity; indeed your analysis is even more pessimistic than the good reverend's.
Making lists of people this book will annoy is quite fun. I counted marxists, doctors, teachers, development economists, mothers at bath-time, farmers, UN apparatchiks, republicans, feminists, industrialists... before giving up and beginning a list of those whose preconceptions WON'T be challenged by this book.
After Malthus, you go on to discuss that old chestnut "causes of the industrial revolution". The usual suspects - agricultural efficiency, birth control, the patent office, peace, law and order, minimal taxation, democracy, etc. - are magisterially dismissed.
This leaves your pet theory, that social mobility - specifically downward mobility - and the consequent acquisitiveness is the key to advance. Here (though I've none of your command of the stats) I start to have doubts. The condition you posit is that the upper classes in England were disproportionately fertile, hence spread their genes to all sectors of society. So they were, according to your data (very good charts and tables throughout, by the way). But you would have to prove that the rich were actually different to the poor (the Fitzgerald / Hemingway exchange) to begin with as bourgeois virtue spread through the population. Then you'd have to prove that this was a more rapid and efficient process than other breeding drivers such as infanticide, arranged marriage, endemic disease, militarism, etc obtaining elsewhere in the world. (As an aside, perhaps you could explain why cousin marriage seems to work rather better for the Rothschilds than for Pakistanis?) Then you'd have to explain why, as the speed of development gathered pace upper class fertility dropped off with no effect (or a contrary one) on economic growth. Regrettably, your thesis seems entirely lacking in supporting statistics. Maybe there are none?
To the reader, then, the industrial revolution remains a puzzle. Why, from surely the smuggest period in English history (the Augustan age) did per capita income suddenly take off? Clearly there was some kind of "tipping point" but your book, so far as I can see, fails to identify it and fails to show how it might be replicated. The quotation at the beginning of chapter 11 seems very appropriate.
The title is a clever play on words (Hemingway, Shakespeare, Dryden, Virgil etc.) but what does it mean?
A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)(9 customer reviews)