A strange and memorable book by an author, who repeatedly tells his readers, not to have a theory of his subject and yet he most adroitly nudges us into a direction, where truth most probably can be found.
Clark divides the economic history of mankind into a Malthusian stage with stagnant real income per head and a phase of modern growth since 1800 with a steady increase in real income per head unimpeded by a strong growth of population figures.
This book excells for three reasons:
1. he smashes many defective ideas
No, former former hunters and gatherers were not "dumber" than modern man, they may have been more intelligent. No, Karl Marx has got it ridiculously wrong, he completely missed the strong gains in real income per head disproportinately dished out to unqualified labour. No, institutions have become helpful to economic change only after the event, after the industrial revolution was well on it`s way! No the black death did not kill indiscriminately, the desease followed the classic Darwinian concept of killing the sick and the rehabs. No the waves of plague starting out from 1347 to run through Europe were a good thing, because it raised the per capita income levels of labouring man. No, slavery was not an inefficient "mode of production" (in Marx` lingo) No, if underdeveloped countries cannot make productive use of modern technology, there is not "bad management" to blame, it's "bad labour"! no, preindustrial economies were not stagnant, they were moving forward in subtle but measurable ways.
2. Prof.Clark adds genetic change and natural selection as new variables to explain economic development. This was needed sorely (my opinion) to arrive at better explanations.
3. The best thing I learned: we don`t understand the Malthusian world too well and still less do we know about the rules of the new economic order past 1800.
This book gives a summary of what we sensibly have to know from research on economic development so far. It collects an awesome range of evidence, much of it from the author`s original research. We have Cobb-Douglas and we have the hunting exploits of the Ache in it. And yet: this ist not the crowning "state" of the discipline, ist`s a brilliant beginning!