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on August 7, 2014
Gregory Clark's book is really successful on numerous counts. It engages and sustains the reader's interest thanks to a very lively style that turns a dry academic subject into a page turner. Clark has gathered an immense amount of sociodemographic data going back up to 3,000 years. His main theory is interestingly controversial. The main cause of the Industrial Revolution was that the rich in England had a much higher fertility rate than lower classes. And, they literally propagated throughout society a new set of values supporting the onset of modern capitalism. Those values included discipline, work ethic, education (literacy), thrift, patience (deferred gratification). They passed on those traits both genetically and behaviorally (by example). Clark has been much criticized for throwing into it a genetic component. But, he has defended his thesis extensively referring to numerous contemporary twin studies supporting that many behavioral outcomes (education and career) have a strong inherited component.

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.
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on January 8, 2015
In A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark takes us on a fascinating journey, revealing the roots of the Industrial Revolution in Europe back to 1200AD. Then he documents just how the IR created modern affluence and why it was nurtured in Northern Europe and flourished in the uniquely fertile culture of 19thC. England. A most welcome element in his approach is his assertion that economic theory cannot explain why some nations rise and others stagnate or fall. Instead. he builds a strong case that economic advances have always come from superior "labor efficiencies," and those are primarily determined within any given population by an empowering combination of culture and genetics.

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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on January 7, 2017
A Farwell to Alms, by economics professor Gregory Clark, combines interesting insights with assertions that strike me as implausible.

On page 41 Professor Clark has a chart that demonstrates that from 1300 to 1450 real wages for English laborers more than doubled. The reason was not an increase in productivity or a strong labor movement. The reason was that during the fourteenth century bubonic plague had killed an estimated half of the English population. With fewer people competing for jobs, wages increased. With fewer people buying stuff, prices declined.

But it did not last. With a higher standard of living more English got married. They got married earlier. They had more children. When the English population rose to what it had been before the bubonic plague epidemic, real wages declined to nearly what they had been in 1300.

Prior to the industrial revolution the world was in what Professor Clark calls a “Malthusian trap.” The economy was stagnant, so most people experienced a subsistence standard of living. They worked longer and ate less well than their Paleolithic ancestors had ten thousand years earlier.

Contrary to what I have believed most of my life, there was a fairly high degree of social mobility in pre industrial England. However, most of the mobility was downward. The rich had many more children who survived and reproduced than the poor. In a stagnant economy there was limited room at the top, so most of the children of the rich became less rich as adults. Nevertheless, it was possible for exceptional individuals to rise.

Upward mobility was not based on fighting ability, but on characteristics that correlate with intelligence, such as the ability to read and write, and perform mathematics, the ability to plan ahead, and the willingness to defer gratification.

Professor Clark discusses genetic changes in the English nation from 1200 to 1800. These changes, he claims, made England ready for the industrial revolution. At the beginning of this period knights had a high death rate because they often fought. Successful merchants and professionals had a low death rate. As time went on the upper class became more peaceful and more inclined to obey the law. As the descendants of the upper class declined economically and socially, qualities that made for upward mobility spread throughout the population. The English population became more law abiding, more intelligent, and more willing to work hard, save money, and so on.

A similar process was happening in China. Here I have to disagree with Professor Clark. For nearly two thousand years young Chinese men who could pass the Imperial Exams entered the Scholar Gentry. They were given large incomes, and expected to have more than one wife and many children.

Nevertheless, Professor Clark claims on the basis of insufficient information that in China the upper class was less prolific than in England, and that this is the reason the industrial revolution did not begin in China.

In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond presents a more plausible explanation for the fact that the industrial revolution did not begin in China.

Professor Diamond pointed out that in the fourteenth century China was experimenting with inventions that could have begun the industrial revolution then and there. These included a water driven spinning machine, an industrial clock, and a printing press, among others. However, the Chinese government for reasons of its own did not like these inventions, so it suppressed them. The Chinese government also put an end to overseas exploration.

The British government lacked the power and inclination to behave that way in 1800. Also, as Professor Diamond points out, if the British government had tried to suppress the inventions which in 1800 made the industrial revolution possible in England, other European countries would have adopted them anyway. Eventually England would have had the incentive to catch up. The Chinese did not have that incentive until the nineteenth century, when they were outclassed by European military forces.

The Chinese imperial exams had a paradoxical effect on the development of the Chinese nation. On one hand, they promoted more social mobility than anywhere else in the world. Upward mobility was based on intelligence. On the other hand, the exams were based on Chinese classics written before the time of Christ. Thus the attention of the most intelligent Chinese was directed to the past, rather than to new scientific discoveries and inventions.

Moreover, success in the exams was based on rote memory and conventional understandings of what the Chinese called “the Four Books and the Five Classics,” rather than on original insights into those books. Currently Chinese throughout the world excel in learning what others have discovered. They have not yet demonstrated the creativity that has enabled Europeans and descendants of Europeans elsewhere in the world to produce inventions like the telegraph, the radio, air planes, televisions, computers, and so on.

Nevertheless, industrialization has spread to China, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan. It has not spread as well or at all to the third world, for reasons Professor Clark somewhat tepidly suggests are biological.

A Farewell to Alms was written right before the Great Recession began. Professor Clark suggests that endless increases in prosperity are possible for the first world. Since the beginning of the Great Recession stagnant or declining economies in the first world suggest that the Malthusian trap still exists; only it is higher off of the ground. Population growth should always be regarded as a factor that keeps the average standard of living lower than it would otherwise be. The relationship between population and standard of living can be illustrated by an equation:
(natural resources x level of technology) / human population = average standard of living
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on April 5, 2017
The origins and implications of global economic inequality often perplex humanity. Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms puts forth a theory regarding this issue (ix). According to Clark, differential cultural and economic development is rooted in preindustrial differences among regions (10-11). For Clark, prior to 1800 AD the whole of mankind was subject to the same “Malthusian constraints” on population and living standards (19). However, social dynamism existed between the various global regions, regardless of the universality of these constraints. Clark argues that environmental and socioeconomic factors gave rise to a variety of “social energies” across different societies (371). Only certain societies adopted the “bourgeois values” that were necessary for the rise of productive industrial-capitalism: thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work were a product that some cultures were not suited for (166). Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution simply magnified pre-existing social differences. Ultimately, these differences manifested themselves in either poverty or affluence, thereby creating global inequality (15).
Clark uses the English to illustrate the role that cultural differences played in the rise of inequality. He takes a “Darwinian” approach to the subject, and argues that England’s wealthiest classes enjoyed a reproductive advantage during the Malthusian era (7). Conversely, the lower ranks of society were less capable of reproducing. Combined with the finite nature of wealth in preindustrial England, this disparity created a society of downward mobility (113). Those elites who filtered downward in society brought with them the bourgeois values that were conducive to economic, reproductive success (130). This downward trend resulted in the dominance of these values throughout English society. In other words, Darwinian selection resulted in major cultural changes among the English population (259). Ultimately, natural selection created a society that was well-suited for productive industrial capitalism (237). Thus, cultural change paved the way for the prosperity of modern England.
In support of his argument, Clark also examines societies that have “lagged behind” England in economic development. For example, he argues that China and Japan lacked the cultural developments that formed the foundation for economic prosperity (271). The primary reason for this underdevelopment was that the Chinese and Japanese elites lacked the reproductive advantage that their English counterparts enjoyed. Thus, the cultural traits of the elite failed to spread downward through society (269-70). The static nature of “bourgeois values” in these societies ultimately led to the inefficiency of labor that undermined their economic development in the modern era (339-40).
A Farewell to Alms is a prime example of “Big History.” Clark follows in the footsteps of authors such as Jared Diamond (ix). However, Clark’s work fails to live up to the expectations set by his predecessors. He attempts to hide the inadequacies of his historical scholarship behind a smokescreen of (weak) quantitative analysis, and he fails to appropriately address the complexities that define his most important premises. For instance, Clark’s handling of English society and culture is, at best, ham-fisted. He argues that there is a direct link between “bourgeois values” and economic success in the preindustrial era (7-8). This assertion is problematic because economic success in preindustrial England generally, or at least often, accompanied a value set that was antithetical to those of the bourgeoisie. To be a gentleman in England during the preindustrial period was “to live well without working for a living” (Heyck, 49). At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution a massive portion of the wealthy in England were decidedly not bourgeois (Heyck, 62). Further, many of those who possessed bourgeois values ultimately sought to establish themselves as a traditional English gentleman (Heyck, 50). It is farcical to treat the “wealthy” as a monolithic body that served as the originator of bourgeois values as well as the means by which they spread. In sum, Clark’s multitude of oversimplifications and historical inaccuracies prevent his work from making any serious contribution to historical understanding.

Heyck, Thomas. The Peoples of the British Isles: A New History. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Chicago: Lyceum Books, 2008.
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on September 18, 2014
I bought this book at least five years ago. Everyone seemed to be talking about it. I felt I had to read it in order to keep up. But I apparently wasn't ready. I put it aside.

Now years later I still keep reading references to Clarke and his work, so I tried again. This time, I went through it fairly fast. It only has about 400 pages but most of them have a table or chart. It takes a bit longer to read than a book of just text. But the text and the exhibits are well integrated and well layed out. The argument proceeds clearly. It is on the whole an easy read.

But I am a little surprised to see that as of today, there are only 62 reviews. This is a very influential and important work. But apparently it doesn't appeal to as many as I had imagined. This is tens times the book as any book ever written by Jared Diamond for example (I've read almost all of his books) but it seems to attract a much smaller readership.

When I got to the last chapter in which professor Clarke concludes that why some nations are rich and oters are poor still remains a bit mysterious, I had the answer which had eluded him. Or I think I did.

About the same time period that this book came out there was another major economics book on the shelves - Lynn and Vanhanen's "Wealth of Nations". In that book they showed that national IQ differed around the world such that the nations with the smart populations were the rich nations. Clarke spends the penultimate chapter examining why Indian cotton mills were so much less efficient than British ones. He discusses in order - the equipment, the management, and the workers. The Indians bought the same equipment. They hired British managers. But the respective workforces behaved very differently. The same is true for Africa. No one tries anymore to develop Africa by just giving them money. Nor do they try to take advantage of all that cheap African labor. The aggregate quality of the workforce seems to be paramount.

I was an economics major as an undergraduate. I was also a psychology major later. In psychology there have been thousands of studies with millions of subjects who took IQ or IQ-like tests. It is a very mature technology. Yet mental ability differences are almost never admitted in economics. I took a course in international development which was supposed to be broader that mere economics. It was supposed to be interdisciplinary. But it still restricted the independent variables to only those of economics.

Economists usually restrict their models to that of the 'economic man'. All men are considered equal and operate identically according to incentives. So in light of that worldview, we have sent Peace Corps volunteers to Africa, we have opened schools, and we have provided them with expertise and capital goods. None of which worked. Clarke's book has provided a lot of evidence to support the view that all such efforts are doomed. We need to change the people somehow. I was familiar with development failures of recent years. Professor Clarke has shown me that these differences are much older. That wasn't his intention but that's what I took away from it.

Finally I found that I admired Clarke. He has spent a lot of hours in a lot of libraries and parish churches and other repositories of ancient records. I admire climatologists who camp out on some glacier. I do not much admire climatologists who just stay at home and write to the Times. Clarke has a lot of citations in his book and many of them are to other books of his. He knows his stuff.
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on August 31, 2014
One of the more interesting books I've read over the last several years. Clark sets out to examine the economic inequalities that exist among nations, and he provides mountains of data in the process. The central question is this: Given the ease with which poor countries can acquire modern technology, why is it that they remain poor? On its face, this situation is puzzling.

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?
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on August 12, 2014
As the Western world has stumbled into an accelerating social and economic decline of its own making, it seems more important than ever for us to understand how we got to where we were ... and where we are. Gregory Clark is a mathematical economic historian, and he will have none of the squishy "it-was-our-institutions" promoted by Daron Acemoglu and other economists, or even more contrived arguments based on geography and climate, as the reasons for the difference between the success and failure of nations. Rather it is the evolution of cultural behaviors over hundreds of years in northern Europe and particularly the UK, and perhaps the genetic alterations that at least partially underlie them. Clark considers the institutional explanation a non-explanation and brings reams of data, graphs and tables to the party, and a few production function equations as well. So this book is definitely not for sissies.

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.
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on March 23, 2014
Despite the equations (which one can skip over), despite the inadequately labelled figures, it's a fascinating read. I shall cherish his wealth of fascinating data, not easily available elsewhere. His description of poorly-disciplined laborers in cotton mills in India (many absences, etc), leading to low productivity, reminds me of a similar problem not so long ago in the auto industry in the USA.
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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on July 20, 2015
One of those books where you wish Amazon would give a 3.5 star option. Since there is a decent amount of positive reviews, Ill subscribe to the average common positive comment and also note that for me the strength of this book is its focus on European pre-industrial history. Clark successfully challenges the notion that democracy or laws or other 'European institutions' were the causes of the Industrial Revolution.

The rest of the review will be a short criticism, focused mainly on the last few chapters where Clark moves from historical descriptive writing to hypothetical prospective writing.

The glaring weakness of the book -- and quite frankly it could have been caused by the paucity of sources as anything -- is Clark's explanation for the failure of most of the world to industrialize. Focusing on Indian cotton mills, Clark essentially argues that third world workers are lazier than those in developed countries. He lays out the extensive difficulties of Indian mills in having their workers simply show up and work the stated hours they should have been. Thus, despite having nominally much cheaper labor costs, poor countries are in fact forced to employ many times more workers to achieve the same output. In essence these lazy workers are so lazy, that employing them even in far greater numbers than their industrious Western counterparts simply does not work.

On its face, this is a bold statement on its own but in the context of South Korean or Taiwanese or Chinese industrialization its also a silly one. In fact its a shame that Clark spent so little time on the East Asian Tigers. Presumably the ease of access to English language sources explains his focus on Indian industrialization. Yet South Korea and China managed to achieve the break from their pre-Industrial past much quicker than the England, and easily outpace India. Considering the fact that both countries were marred in stagnation for the first 150 years of Europe's industrial revolution, Clark's book offers no cogent explanation for their success. You are simply forced to make strange assertions like "Prior to 1960 in the case of South Korea or 1980 in the case of China, workers were inefficient and lazy. Then a bolt of lighting struck both countries, and they turned into highly industrialized societies"
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on February 16, 2016
A profound analysis, and a one that definitely undermines some of the generally accepted and politically correct notions.
Recommended for those who search to understand the processes that brought the present day world into being.
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