- 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: 5.8 x 1 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 73 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,924 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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Winner of the 2008 Gold Book Medal in Finance/Investment/Economics, Independent Publisher Book Awards
"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
From the Inside Flap
"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 Grda, 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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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He begins by examining some of the mainstream arguments for the great gap between rich nations and poor. One of the more interesting, of course, was Jared Diamond's, who proposed convincingly that geographical circumstances gave North Africa and Europe advantages in resources that other areas, such as Australia and North America, lacked. Clark accepts this proposal but notes that these advantages explain the rise of early civilizations in the Fertile Crescent but that they do not explain social and cultural history beyond those first organized societies.
He then looks at the Industrial Revolution (IR) as the tipping point at which Malthusian mechanisms stopped influencing population growth,
personal income, and technological advancement. His data show that in the 200 years leading up to the IR, England benefitted from stable government, low taxes, low interest rates, and ample agricultural yields, which allowed for the accumulation of personal wealth among those who worked hard, managed their money, and were what we might call "good citizens" in the sense that they displayed what today we know as a middle-class work ethic and middle-class values. These persons not only lived longer than those who did not have these middle-class characteristics--they also had more surviving children. Many more, and these children were educated into those same middle-class values. One consequence was that upon a father's death and the subsequent bequeathal of the estate to his children, there tended to be a steady shift downward in social rank. Over time, middle-class values became the norm throughout England (and then Northern Europe) as those with them phased out those without them through higher birth rates and greater longevity.
The IR ended the Malthusian stability that had governed societies for millennia, greatly raising the personal incomes in England, Northern Europe, and the United States and thus initiating the modern period. Clark points out that the ease with which technology can be transported anywhere on the planet led many early economists to speculate that the benefits would soon become global. This did not happen, however, and at this point Clark's work becomes controversial. His data show that, although transporting technology to poor countries is easy, transporting the middle-class values necessary to use that technology effectively is not. Without those values, the efficiency required to use technology effectively does not exist. One of his more important examples is the textile industry in India, where productivity is a fraction of the level in the United States, even though the workers have the same equipment. His data show that India textile workers are productive only 10-15 minutes per hour owing to absenteeism, frequent unauthorized breaks, and a failure to work at the same pace and level as American workers. If his analyses are correct, then the develop world's efforts to raise the standard of living in undeveloped countries are futile.
It should be noted that although Clark's argument is compelling, there are several problems with the book. In some instances, his information is incorrect, as when he implies that slavery in Rome all but disappeared around 200 AD owing to some unknown social change. Actually, the explanation is straightforward: Approximately 80% of all Roman slaves were male, which meant that it was impossible for the slave population to renew itself through reproduction, especially when on those relatively uncommon occasions that a female slave became pregnant she was often freed. Thus, Rome relied on a steady stream of soldiers captured in combat to renew the slave population. But as wars became less frequent and less successful, there were fewer men to add to the slave population. In addition, the book was very poorly edited, with an abundance of punctuation problems and typos. Where have all the competent proof readers gone?
But the book is far more ambitious than just the matter of the success/failure of countries. Clark wants to understand a number of interrelated issues:
-- When did the industrial revolution happen? Was it a sudden transition (like a phase transition) or preceded by a long incubation period that simply accelerated under the right conditions?
-- Why did it take so long to finally happen?
-- How do we understand the pre-industrial revolution economy? (Ans: it really was Malthusian scarcity, in which population was the flywheel that would adjust so that everyone ended up with a subsistence living).
-- Why did the industrial revolution actually decrease inequality in countries that participated in it, while increasing inequality across different economies?
-- Why did poor countries actually became poorer while the rich countries get amazingly richer as the Industrial Revolution progressed?
Some of the chapters are dazzling, almost breathtaking, while a couple seem either unclear or overworked. But the book is always engaging, provocative, and intelligent, with occasional spices of dry humor. Along the way Clark argues that economic knowledge actually peaked in 1800 since we can explain what happened before that time, but the field has failed miserably since then. Pointing out this seemingly obvious failure of the economics project is reason enough to be viciously attacked by the establishment.
I was motivated to read this book as a carom shot from the recent Nicholas Wade book "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History" which makes for another excellent companion read for those interested in these most pertinent and critical questions. It is also a very worthy co-read with Acemoglu and Robinson's "Why Nations Fail" which I found repetitive and unconvincing.
If this book were to go to a second edition, a friendly editor might make it more easily understood by the lay reader. Does Clark want a textbook, or a popular book? It's hard to have both.
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I like the presentation and reasoning as to WHY not every society that is...Read more