- Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 18, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691141282
- ISBN-13: 978-0691141282
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
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"Right or wrong, or perhaps somewhere in between, Clark's is about as stimulating an account of world economic history as one is likely to find. 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."--Benjamin M. Friedman, New York Times Book Review
"Clark's idea-rich book may just prove to be the next blockbuster in economics. He offers us a daring story of the economic foundations of good institutions and the climb out of recurring poverty. We may not have cracked the mystery of human progress, but A Farewell to Alms brings us closer than before."--Tyler Cowen, New York Times
"[C]lark is very good at piecing together figures from here and there, including those from isolated groups of hunter-gatherers alive today. He makes a plausible case for the basic pattern: for thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, there was essentially no sustained improvement in mankind's general material standard of living, nor was there much variation from place to place around the world. The Industrial Revolution made all the difference."--Robert Solow, New York Review of Books
"A Farewell to Alms asks the right questions, and it is full of fascinating details, like the speed at which information traveled over two millennia (prior to the 19th century, about one mile per hour). Clark's combination of passion and erudition makes his account engaging. When a light bulb goes off in my head, the first thing I ask myself is 'Would this be interest if it were true?' Clark's thesis definitely meets that test."--Samuel Bowles, Science
"Mr. Clark...has produced a well written and thought-provoking thesis, refreshingly light on jargon and equations. It could well be the subject of debate for years to come."--The Economist
"Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms is fully as absorbing, as memorable and as well written as [Jared] Diamond's remarkable bestseller. It deserves to be as widely read.... [A]ny book that is as bold, as fascinating, as conscientiously argued and as politically incorrect as this one demands to be read."--Clive Crook, Financial Times
"Obviously, we¹ve got a controversial argument here. But Clark makes a compelling case for the idea that the fruits of industrialization were open to all societies, but only a handful seized the moment."--William R. Wineke, The Wisconsin State Journal
"Gregory Clark's new book A Farewell to Alms is an investigation of both our nasty, brutish, and short past and our more prosperous present. Mr. Clark first makes the case that we owe our current prosperity to the gifts of the Industrial Revolution. He then attempts to explain why that revolution happened in 18th-century England."--Edward Glaeser, New York Sun
"Economic history often conjures images of musty tomes, bygone eras that no one knows about and in general, scholarship that is dry and difficult to relate to. Gregory Clark's new book A Farewell to Alms conveys a different image. Offering a sweep of history from the border between antiquity and the medieval age, the book is an attempt at tackling grand themes."--Siddharth Singh, LiveMint
"For a novel and somewhat dispiriting theory of economic divergence, read A Farewell to Alms, published this year, by Gregory Clark of the University of California at Davis. He doesn't accept the view, common among the utopians, that natural endowments like soil and water explain why rich nations are 50 times as prosperous as poor ones. How can differences in natural resources possibly explain Zimbabwe's misery or Singapore's wealth? Clark amasses an extraordinary collection of historical data to explain why the Industrial Revolution was born in western Europe, not Africa or India."--William Baldwin, Forbes
"Clark's ferociously systematic expounding of an alternative to the institutional explanation does...provide many delightful insights, large and small, along the way. Some of the observations in this very well-written book do make for nice dinner party anecdotes."--Harold James, The American Interest
"Comes now Gregory Clark, an economist who interestingly takes the side of culture. In an important new book, A Farewell to Alms Clark suggests that much of the world's remaining poverty is semi-permanent. Modern technology and management are widely available, but many societies can't take advantage because their values and social organization are antagonistic. Prescribing economically sensible policies (open markets, secure property rights, sound money) can't overcome this bedrock resistance."--Robert Samuelson, The Washington Post
"A Farewell to Alms is a brave new work, rich in both detailed facts and big ideas. Clark clears away much of the tangled brush of theories of long-term economic growth that have grown up in recent decades. This is the most ambitious and far-reaching book on long-term economic history to appear in many years, perhaps since Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel."--Jack A. Goldstone, World Economics
"Clark's book A Farewell to Alms is . . . Ambitious, staking out an entire vision of world history. . . . Clark's Malthusian model is forcefully argued."--Roger Gathman, Austin American-Statesman
"[T]he author's engaging style and (relatively) jargon-free descriptions of the economic principles in play before, during, and after the Industrial Revolution in England turn this rich and detailed account into more of a sprint than a slog. . . . Whatever your reaction to this decidedly un-PC take on economic aid, [A Farewell to Alms] serves as a useful explanation of how we got where we are today and a reminder that new approaches are needed to close the yawning gap between the world's richest and poorest societies."--Roberta Fusaro, Harvard Business Review
"Clark argues the English evolved biologically in ways that created prosperity. Before you dismiss the notion, read this brilliant tour of economic history."--MoneySense Magazine
"Clark adds substantively to an understanding of perhaps the important questions of this--or any--era: what makes economies grow, and why have some not experienced any success at all?....Alms is provocative, authoritative, insightful, readable, well documented, and an inescapable detour for anyone wanting to tackle economic growth and development topics and enter into these conversations."--A. R. Sanderson, Choice
"Gregory Clark has written a fascinating book which is chock-full of insight and ideas. Clark paints on a big canvas and his deft handling of the puzzles and counterintuitive outcomes is delicious. 'No one,' he says, 'can claim to be truly intellectually alive without having understood and wrestled, at least a little, with these mysteries'. We are indebted to him for revealing more of them in such an electrifying fashion."--Ian R. Harper, The Melbourne Review
"[A Farewell to Alms] is one of the most fascinating, and the most disturbing, historical works I have read. It seems to suggest that the gross inequality of our world has less to do with the inherent unfairness of global capitalism and more with scarcely ineradicable cultural difference. . . . [T]his is economic history as you never read it before."--A.N. Wilson, The Daily Telegraph
"Why do some nations get rich while others stay poor? What are the conditions that allow an economy to take off and grow? These questions have puzzled economists for many years. But no explanation is more startling than the one proposed by Gregory Clark in his book A Farewell to Alms."--Ross Gittins, Sydney Morning Herald
"This is a fine book, bristling with interesting data and opinions, more extensive than this review can possibly convey. Readily accessible to non-fiction readers, this book should fire more debate about a historical episode of unfailing fascination."--Michael G. Sargent, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
"This is . . . a remarkable book, with an unerring focus on the fundamentals of the Malthusian economy and the large-scale economic trends. It is a unique source of factual information, beautifully presented in almost 200 tables and figures, and will make an excellent textbook for college-level courses of history and economics."--Gerhard Meisenberg, Journal of Biosocial Science
"[P]erhaps there is no higher praise for an author than to say that I disagreed with the arguments but liked the book. It made me think in new ways about the course of economic history. I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the economic history of the world."--Rick Szostak, New Global Studies
"I derived enormous stimulation from this book. At a superficial level, Clark offers a richly documented picture of England's economic history, put into perspective by comparisons with other parts of Europe and with the Far East, and sometimes even by references to amazing facts about ancient forager societies. . . . More fundamentally, the layman gets a good understanding here of what made for the Industrial Revolution and how its preconditions evolved in England over a period of centuries. Clark accuses economists of being undereducated about history. This will be somewhat remedied if they read his provocative book."--Wolfgang Kasper, Policy
"As a self-proclaimed exercise in 'big history' this work succeeds extraordinarily well: it is engaging and readable, and it renders abstruse economic models and empirical results accessible to nonspecialists."--Zorina Khan, Technology and Culture
"A Farewell to Alms is . . . worth scrutinizing. The book offers a distinct line of thought on evolutionary affairs. It is also valuable in historiographical terms as it recalls historical explanation forsaken due to shifting scholarly fashions."--Ian Morley, The History Teacher
"Gregory Clark has written a stimulating, provocative, witty, and ambitious book. It is accessible to the uninitiated and a pleasure to read. Clark's valuable insights are presented with an admirable forcefulness, as are his grievous errors. In short, this is a book very much worth reading for the sake of argument and debate."--Jan De Vries, Journal of Economic History
"Clark has provided a sensible and readable account of important frontier research in economic history."--Peter Howitt, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"Gregory Clark has given us a very provocative work. It is economic history, but with strong implications for contemporary problems. His quantitative techniques for demonstrating such phenomena as the innumeracy of pre-industrial humanity and the evolution of the speed of information flows are clever."--Arnold Kling, Journal of Bioeconomics
From the Back Cover
"What caused the Industrial Revolution? Gregory Clark has a brilliant and fascinating explanation for this event which permanently changed the life of humankind after 100,000 years of stagnation."--George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics and Koshland Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley
"This is a very important book. Gregory Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution was the gradual but inevitable result of a kind of natural selection during the harsh struggle for existence in the pre-industrial era, in which economically successful families were also more reproductively successful. They transmitted to their descendants, culturally and perhaps genetically, such productive attitudes as foresight, thrift, and devotion to hard work. This audacious thesis, which dismisses rival explanations in terms of prior ideological, technological, or institutional revolutions, will be debated by historians for many years to come."--Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
"Challenging the prevailing wisdom that institutions explain why some societies become rich, Gregory Clark's "A Farewell to Alms" will appeal to a broad audience. I can think of nothing else like it."--Philip T. Hoffman, author of Growth in a Traditional Society
"You may not always agree with Gregory Clark, but he will capture your attention, make you think, and make you reconsider. He is a provocative and imaginative scholar and a true original. As an economic historian, he engages with economists in general; as an economist, he is parsimonious with high-tech algebra and unnecessarily complex models. Occam would approve."--Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce
"This should rapidly become a standard work on the history of economic development. It should start whole industries trying to test, refine, and refute its explanations. And Gregory Clark's views on the economic merits of imperialism and the fact that labor gained the most from industrialization will infuriate all the right people."--Eric L. Jones, author of Cultures Merging and The European Miracle
"While many books on the Industrial Revolution tend to focus narrowly either on the event itself, or on one explanation for it, Gregory Clark does neither. He takes an extremely long-run view, covering significant periods before and after the Industrial Revolution, without getting bogged down in long or detailed exposition. This is an extremely important contribution to the subject."--Clifford Bekar, Lewis and Clark College
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Clark also addresses in passing the consequences of the Industrial Revolution on inequality. The latter [inequality] has become the hot topic in economic debates several years after Clark wrote this book. Clark's, data-supported, findings entirely contradict Thomas Piketty's premise (as expressed in Capital in the Twenty-First Century) that capital grows faster than income and leads to rising inequality. Clark instead (within Chapter 14) demonstrates that capital has not grown any faster than income over a very long period of time. His Figure 14-4 on pg. 280 shows that capital's share of income actually steadily declined from 1750 to 2000 in England. Over the same period, he shows that labor share of income increased rapidly leading to a reduction in inequality over the reviewed period.
Clark takes his theory as the exclusive cause of the Industrial Revolution. At times, he may have dismissed other theoretical causes too quickly. For instance, he advances that modern institutions did not play much of a role in fostering the Industrial Revolution because he felt that the institutional environment was already well established in Medieval England vs. Modern England. He supports this statement by observing that the income tax rate and Public Debt/GDP ratio were both a lot lower during Medieval England than currently. Thus, he deducts the institutional environment was actually superior in Medieval England. However, higher tax rates and Public Debt levels in modern times are the difference between a complex and fully developed Government and a far more limited or nearly totally absent one (no Government = no taxes = no public debt). Using this rational, and deriving anything about the quality of current social institutions is just not accurate.
Clark's excluding all other theories entirely is the main weakness of this book and that is a frequent occurrence in the social sciences. One social scientist will come up with an explanatory theory and will in turn make great efforts to demonstrate that their own causal explanation is the only possible one. I find this approach less than optimal. And, I wish they would adopt more readily a Factor Analysis approach where they could assess the relative influence of numerous causal factors instead of a single one. Such a study could for instance find that the Industrial Revolution was in part due to Clark's theory, but also emergence of supporting institutions, England's access to new energy, etc... This would make for a more nuanced, encompassing, and defensible multi-faceted theory. However, this approach within the social sciences is rarely taken (I can't think of a single example).
To his credit, Clark does cover, and rebut numerous competing theories of the Industrial Revolution. And, he does it well (except for the mentioned example regarding quality of institutions). Some of the protagonists have in turn criticized him back. And, Clark has responded to those attacks in a short paper titled: "In Defense of the Malthusian Interpretation of History." The latter is strongly recommended reading as it makes for an excellent supplement to the book.
There is one specific theory that Clark may have short changed; And, that is the one from Ken Pomeranz as expressed in The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. According to Pomeranz, the Industrial Revolution occurred in England because of its early access to an abundant source of industrial energy: coal and its access to massive food and other resources from the U.S. This allowed England to successfully shift its economic focus from agriculture to industry (manufacturing, railroads, etc...) and forge ahead leading the Industrial Revolution. This seems to make much sense. Maybe the Industrial Revolution can be well explained by: 10% Clark's theory + 10% Pomeranz + 80% numerous other theories and unknown factors.
To understand his position one must recognize that Genetic differences do exist between people, but it is important to recognize that these are based on ancestry, not race. The visual differences we see tell us nothing about a person's fundamental qualities. This is because human variation is non-concordant--that is most traits are inherited independently, not based on race or ethnicity. Group racial characteristics are irrelevant, but the variations within every group are important. And when circumstances have concentrated above average capabilities in a supporting culture there has usually been above average results. As Benjamin M. Friedland explained in the NYT Book Review, "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."
Although Clark concentrates on the impact of the IR from the early 1800's to present days, he explains how that European success was built on a gradual evolution from 1200 to 1800 that advanced in baby steps enabled by many causative factors. But, he concludes near the end of the book that "The West has no model of economic development to offer the still-poor countries. . no simple economic medicine that will guarantee growth. ." That statement, however, belies many of his repeated references to the primary contributing factors of England's success. In brief, he suggests that 1.) the people of a society are its Ultimate Resource (a la Julian Simon); 2.) that the existence of stable and supportive social customs and legal/financial institutions can create an environment in which those citizens are free to act (a la Hernando deSoto); and 3.) that the population's genetic/cultural heritage can further empower their productivity(a la James R. Flynn). But he explains how the first two, merely having people, and empowering legal and political institutions, is not enough--many nations have had that combination, but without a high proportion of people with drive and talent, the Western experience has proven hard to replicate. Modern machinery and a free economy is useless unless the culture and attitudes of the people make efficient use of those advantages. He cites examples of how this factor makes most aid to developing nations problematic, and renders any attempt to solve their problems beyond the expertise of today's economists.
Part of Clark's argument is that the Industrial Revolution was the gradual result of natural selection during the harsh struggle for existence in Medieval times. Before the widespread safety net became a part of Western democracies, economically successful families were also more reproductively successful. They passed on to their children a culture, and perhaps winning genes, that possessed such productive attitudes as thrift and devotion to hard work. This positive fertility effect he refers to as "downward mobility" because it expanded the Middle Class with its successful attitudes and aptitudes. This thesis, which dismisses rival explanations based on natural resources, luck, and good geography makes short shrift of Jared Diamond's and Kenneth Pomerantz' recent popular, politically correct, and totally unsatisfactory explanations for the Rise and Fall of Nations.
I would like to have had more exposition on how this same people-based explanation applies to some of history's most spectacular earlier success stories. In ancient Phoenicia, Venice, and Holland, as well as the original American colonies we have seen the success of wilderness outposts that were "started from scratch" by a voluntary migration of self-selecting individuals seeking freedom and opportunity. Such an economic force of a populace's attitude supporting hard work, private property, and self-reliance can be traced all the way back to the original Greek scientists and philosopher Hesiod around 800AD. The great poet's parents had migrated to a rocky barren land near Ascra, and probably lived on waste land, under pioneer conditions, similar to the rugged individualists who settled New England 2,400 years later! Victor Davis Hanson writes in The Other Greeks how the rise of this "successful independent class of agrarians explains the peculiar Greek approach to politics, war, and the economy, which would form the later core foundations of Western civilization itself." In those days we can safely assume that the survival of the fittest was in full operation. Because Hesiod and most later Greek states only granted full citizenship to the more successful citizens, it appears likely that a positive fertility factor expanded the number of people with the traits that lead to success, the same beneficent social force that Clark points to in explaining England's rapid success in the 19th C.
A great feature of Clark's book is that he uses the lessons of history to address today's problems: Based on that view, he believes that America faces a future burdened by persistent inequalities because the history of American immigration has created a society of wide socio-economic divisions of ability and status. Clark's studies of the history of surname social mobility (another of his books) suggests that we will experience a magnification of the existing class divisions in the U.S. He realistically, but pessimistically, indicates the need to consider how to mitigate the consequences of these forces. Government policies to promote social mobility can help only marginally. So, he posits, we must face the need to accommodate such persistent divergence of fortunes.
He argues that a low rate of social mobility is in itself not a social tragedy. It depends on what is causing the high correlation of status between parents and children--if driven by environmental deprivation, discrimination, or connections, then it would indeed be a disgrace. But he is quick to assert that there is considerable evidence that the biological inheritance of talent and drive is what underlies most of the correlation between the social status of parents and children. Under any social system, be it China or England, families of greater social competence will manage to achieve the higher social positions. This reminded me of the old theory that if we divided all the nation's wealth evenly to everyone, after 40 years roughly the same people would have most of it that had enjoyed it before its redistribution! He suggests we accept these social mobility facts, and seek to provide equal opportunity for everyone and limit the rewards that come from mere social status.
If we project Clark's line of thought, it sheds light also on the eventual decline of history's successful nations-- as caused by a gradually declining contribution from the more productive segment of their population as their portion of the population becomes smaller and becomes suppressed by a populist majority. For example. the recent dysgenic trend in Western democracies represents the exact opposite of the "downward mobility" Clark shows to have helped England's past success. Because we have advanced beyond the harsh reality of survival of the fittest, those individuals with the most positive "attitudes and inherited traits" could become a smaller and less influential group, which illustrates Benjamin Friedland's dire observation noted above.
This book explores a vast and interesting subject for those who have any intellectual curiosity about where did we come from and where are we going. It is written in simple language free of the usual economists' dismal and mind boggling mathematical abstractions. (I obviously enjoyed it, writing the longest review in history!) Clark is more a historian than an economist which is good because economics is not a science and yet most academics seem to believe it is and therefore claim knowledge comparable to the real "scientists" like Pythagorus, Newton and Einstein! Yet, here we find out why economists have not been able to even explain the rise and fall of nations!
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