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The Inheritance of Gregory Clark

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  • McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen

Abstract

An extreme materialist hypothesis explaining the Industrial Revolution would be simply genetic. Gregory Clark asserts such a theory of sociobiological inheritance in his Farewell to Alms (2007). Rich people proliferated in England, Clark argues, and by a social Darwinian struggle the poor and incompetent died out, leaving a master race of Englishmen with the bourgeois values to conquer the world. Clark will have no truck with ideas as causes, adopting a materialist (and as he believes is implied by materialism a quantitative) theory of truth. His method, that is, follows Marx in historical materialism, as many scholars did 1890 to 1980. But he does not follow through on his promise to show his argument quantitatively. The argument fails, on many grounds. For one thing, non-English people succeeded, as for instance the Chinese now are succeeding. And such people have always done fine in a bourgeois country. For another, Clark does not show that his inheritance mechanism has the quantitative oomph to change people generally into bourgeois, nor does he show that bourgeois habits of working hard mattered, or that bourgeois values caused innovation. What made for success in 1500 is not obviously the same as what made for innovation in 1800. And in the modern world of literacy such values are not transmitted down families, but across families. Literal inheritance anyway dissipates in reversion to the mean. What mattered in modern economic growth was not a doubtfully measured change in the inherited abilities of English people. What mattered was a radical change 1600-1776, “measurable” in every play and pamphlet, in what English people wanted, paid for, revalued.

Suggested Citation

  • McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen, 2009. "The Inheritance of Gregory Clark," MPRA Paper 21326, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:21326
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    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/21326/1/MPRA_paper_21326.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Knick Harley, C., 1980. "Transportation, the world wheat trade, and the Kuznets Cycle, 1850-1913," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 218-250, July.
    2. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2002. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1133-1191.
    3. Voth, Hans-Joachim, 1998. "Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 29-58, March.
    4. Gregory Clark, 2007. "A Review of Avner Greif's Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 725-741, September.
    5. Clark, Gregory & Hamilton, Gillian, 2006. "Survival of the Richest: The Malthusian Mechanism in Pre-Industrial England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(03), pages 707-736, September.
    6. Clark, Gregory, 1987. "Why Isn't the Whole World Developed? Lessons from the Cotton Mills," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(01), pages 141-173, March.
    7. Easterlin,Richard A., 2004. "The Reluctant Economist," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521829748.
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    Keywords

    gregory clark; economic history; industrial revolution; sociobiological inheritance;

    JEL classification:

    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • N34 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: 1913-

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