Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Princeton Economic History of the Western World

A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World

Rate this book
Why are some parts of the world so rich and others so poor? Why did the Industrial Revolution--and the unprecedented economic growth that came with it--occur in eighteenth-century England, and not at some other time, or in some other place? Why didn't industrialization make the whole world rich--and why did it make large parts of the world even poorer? In "A Farewell to Alms," Gregory Clark tackles these profound questions and suggests a new and provocative way in which culture--not exploitation, geography, or resources--explains the wealth, and the poverty, of nations.

Countering the prevailing theory that the Industrial Revolution was sparked by the sudden development of stable political, legal, and economic institutions in seventeenth-century Europe, Clark shows that such institutions existed long before industrialization. He argues instead that these institutions gradually led to deep cultural changes by encouraging people to abandon hunter-gatherer instincts-violence, impatience, and economy of effort-and adopt economic habits-hard work, rationality, and education.

The problem, Clark says, is that only societies that have long histories of settlement and security seem to develop the cultural characteristics and effective workforces that enable economic growth. For the many societies that have not enjoyed long periods of stability, industrialization has not been a blessing. Clark also dissects the notion, championed by Jared Diamond in "Guns, Germs, and Steel," that natural endowments such as geography account for differences in the wealth of nations.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published July 24, 2007

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Gregory Clark

65 books72 followers
Clark, whose grandfathers were migrants to Scotland from Ireland, earned his B.A. in economics and philosophy at King's College, Cambridge in 1979 and his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1985. He has also taught as an Assistant Professor at Stanford and the University of Michigan.
Clark is now a professor of economics and department chair until 2013 at the University of California, Davis. His areas of research are long term economic growth, the wealth of nations, and the economic history of England and India.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
309 (26%)
4 stars
434 (36%)
3 stars
297 (25%)
2 stars
103 (8%)
1 star
39 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 130 reviews
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,025 followers
January 29, 2014

Jared Diamond should be given the Nobel. If not for anything else but for getting historians and economists up in arms shouting “Our field is not That simple, Mister!!” . He has kicked off so many responses and counter-responses that it has enlivened an entire gamut of fields. This is one more response/alternative to how the modern world is the way it is. In fact in the very beginning the author classes himself with the Diamonds, the Adam Smiths and the North & Thomass of the world and puts his own book in the same league. Talk about building up expectations.

The Malthusian World

To make a simple theory work - that is a major achievement. And for much of the book, Clark gives the impression that he is going to pull it off. The book builds its argument very painstakingly, with numerous diagrams and with a surfeit of statistics. A lot of effort is put in to build the foundations of the argument.

This foundation rests on proving that the whole world was more or less uniform before 1800 - that we were in a Malthusian trap (a long term one, granted) from which no society could make a true break. A ‘true break’ being a sustained long term deviation from the Malthusian norm.

This “Malthusian world’ is built on some very simple conditions. And it encompassed the human and animal world equally. Economically the whole world had the same constraints: that for any species, its population could never outstrip its food supply. Of course humans are ingenious and made many advances over the course of history. But for every technological advance that results in more food, the population would respond by rising until the extra food available is cancelled out. This means that in a Malthusian world, the living conditions (on average) could never rise above a certain level.

Tech improves:
=> (leading to) more food (or income)
=> more population
=> less food (or income) per person
=> back to earlier living conditions. Simple.

(Use the conditions from Engel Curve to derive food changes from changes in income as required.)

So in this world, living conditions (on average) could never rise above the pre-agrarian levels in spite of any technological innovation. This persisted till the Industrial Revolution. So overall until 1800 there was in all societies an inherent, but shifting, trade-off between income and mortality rates that tied long-run incomes to the level which balanced fertility with mortality and maintained a stable level of standard of living.

The Industrial Escape Hatch

Then, around 1800, in northwestern Europe and North America, man’s long sojourn in the Malthusian world ends. The iron link between population and living standards, through which any increase in population caused an immediate decline in wages, was decisively broken. A new era dawned. The seemingly sudden and unpredictable escape from the dead hand of the Malthusian past in England around 1800, this materialist crossing of the Jordan, was so radical that it has been forever dubbed the Industrial Revolution.

The ‘Industrial’ part of the label is, Clark says, unfortunate and misleading. It was conferred mainly because the most observable of the many changes in England was the enormous growth of the industrial sector: cotton mills, potteries, foundries, steel works. There is, in fact, nothing inherently industrial about the Industrial Revolution. Since 1800 the productivity of agriculture has increased by as much as that of the rest of the economy, and without these gains in agriculture modern growth would have been impossible.

Clark says that we have to resign ourselves to the fact that one of the defining events in human history has been mislabeled.

The 'Industrious' Revolution

The Malthusian era was one of astonishing stasis, in terms of living standards and of the rate of technological change. Wages, returns, income and living standards - all should have remained the same on average from the dawn of market economies to the end of the Malthusian era. This only reinforces the puzzle of how the economy ever escaped the Malthusian Trap. How did stasis before 1800 transform itself into dynamism thereafter? This is the central question of the book.

The author has much to say about alternate theories, especial on researches such as Acemoğlu's (review pending) who insist on Institutional explanations:

Commentators, having visited climate, race, nutrition, education, and culture, have persistently returned to one theme: the failure of political and social institutions in poor countries. Yet, Clark asserts, this theme can be shown to manifestly fail in two ways. It does not describe the anatomy of the divergence we observe: the details of why poor countries remain poor. And the medicine of institutional and political reform has failed repeatedly to cure the patient.

Yet, like the physicians of the prescientific era who prescribed bloodletting as the cure for ailments they did not understand, the modern economic doctors continue to prescribe the same treatment year after year through such cult centers as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If the medicine fails to cure, then the only possible conclusion is that more is needed.

Strong words. And after all the build up, in answering this central question is where Clark disappoints.

Q: So what is the final solution to the great puzzle?

A: Sustained advances in efficiency.

And the reason for this unprecedented advance in efficiency of utilization of resources?

In answering this, Clark plays his final lame card. The answer is that there was no Industrial Revolution after all. It had been long in the making, this gradual advance in efficiency.

And how did this come about? Here we have to understand a bit more about the Malthusian world, we have to peer deeper into the society, look beyond the averages that was the basis of all discussion till now.

On the average, living standard might have been stagnant - but how was this average achieved? By the benefits of every advance in achievement being cornered by select groups. This would mean an advance in income for the privileged and a decrease in income for the underprivileged.

Now, what happens in a Malthusian world when income increases? You got that right: the fertility rates increases as well.

Hence, the rich consistently outproduced the poor throughout history. This might seem like a crazy thing to say, but Clark asserts that in the now counterintuitive world of the pre-industrial times, this was exactly what happened. There was a huge difference in offsprings by the rich and by the poor. So over the long term, what would be the effect of this? The number of the relatively well-off keeps on increasing and that of the relatively worse-off keeps on decreasing. And since Malthusian pressures apply to the rich as well, they get less rich as time goose on. One would think that eventually they would fall back into the average, given enough time. But there’s the rub.

According to the author, the rich, even as they tend towards the average, also carry with them the values that enabled their fathers or forefathers to become rich in the first place. So this meant that these industrious values began to spread across the society. Eventually this accumulating industriousness of the people reached a tipping point around the time of the industrial revolution and society has not looked back since. And that explains the world.

Well, not quite. One more thing had to happen before the inevitable trend towards the mean by the rich could be checked. They had to stop out-producing the poor so that income wouldn’t be redistributed in Malthusian fashion as soon as it is accumulated by one generation.

The Demographic Revolution

Along the way somewhere, humanity seemed to realize that children was an ‘inferior good’ (anything that you consume less of as income increases) and this turned Malthusian logic on its head. What triggered the switch to the modern demographic regime with few children despite high incomes? This is where I feel the author finally trips comprehensively.

Clark has no explanation to offer on why this demographic revolution should have happened only in England. The only explanation forthcoming is that perhaps in England alone the diffusion (mentioned above) of values reached its tipping point earlier. Now this may well be the best explanation but it leaves the reader disappointed.


In the end, the reader has to applaud the statical dexterity of the author and the very creditable model that has been built up. The conclusion is unavoidably weak but it fits fairly well into the model itself and hence is acceptable within those frameworks.

As a critique on current models available, this book works well. But as an alternate theory, not so well.

Firstly, Clark brackets all of pre-1800 humanity into one single average. But history is not about the mean curve, it is about the people at the edges of the curve, continually creating it, changing it. Clark can surely learn a thing or two from Armesto on how history is much more about human drama than about statistics.

The progress that humanity was making was affecting radical changes at the edges of the curve even if the curve itself might not have ben shifting. So to me the Malthusian world is not so much different from today’s world - the difference has always been about how the gains from any advance in technology was apportioned among the population. It might well be the case that we are in a slightly prolonged deviation from the curve currently and will return to the curve once the free lunches that we have unearthed get exhausted. The Industrial Revolution might well then be called The Industrial Aberration by future historians.

Cheers to the reviewer for the biased conclusion please. Thanks.
Profile Image for ba.
169 reviews4 followers
December 11, 2007
Phew finally! I've been reading this exclusively on the train for a few weeks now. I picked up this book because the reviews made it sound like Mr. Clark would be making a case that the Industrial Revolution occurred when and where it did for strictly Darwinian reasons of breeding. I wanted to see how he would navigate those dangerous waters which have taken out even the likes of Jimmy the Greek.

I began to get angry at the book during the introduction, when the author mentioned that he was trying to write a big history, in the tradition of The Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, [and] The Rise of the Western World..." Then followed a 16-page summery of the economic history of the world. The first figure in that chapter "proved" that there was a "great divergence" between rich and poor starting in 1880 by showing a single line indicating average wealth which split into two lines indicating the average wealth of rich and poor people respectively. This split occurred at 1880 on the timeline. I settled in for a long, painful read.

For the record, let me state that I have virtually no background in economics. So although the author's explanation of Malthusian theory seemed highly counter-intuitive to me, I assume that it's the accepted theory of classical economics. I felt like some elaborate house of cards was being built in the early chapters, but I began ignoring the graphs and formulas (which were beyond my level), and concentrated on the narrative.

There's some great stuff in there about the filthiness of living conditions in 18th century England, to include the fact that the Globe theater had no bathroom facilities, and patrons generally relieved themselves in the stairwells between acts.

But back to the central question of why the Industrial revolution occurred in England when it did,and not somewhere else some other time.

Mr. Clark makes the case that England at the time, more than anywhere else, was becoming a downwardly mobile society, where the gentry and middle class were so fertile that their offspring were destined to move down a rung on the ladder of wealth, and that the spread of middle-class values is what energized the workforce in a time when capital investment did no necessarily benefit from incremental gains in efficiency. After slogging through this, I can almost accept some of it, but then at the end of each point, he mumbles something about changes in culture...or possibly genetic predisposition towards delayed rewards to the worker.

For all that has been made of the Darwinian claims, I don't even find a lot of those claims in the book. When the claim was made, it was tacked on as an afterthought, without much explanation. In fact, the dustcover may be the biggest proponent of that particular argument.

All that aside, it was an interesting first look at economics for me, and I found the irony of the Malthusian model (at least as presented here) quite astounding (ie: England was so fertile due to a high death rate which was in turn due to the disgusting lack of hygiene compared to, say Asia).
Profile Image for Letitia.
1,062 reviews85 followers
January 27, 2014
Really interesting and readable, if somewhat contradictory and elitist. Clark seems to want to make a case for biological superiority being a main factor in developed countries, but doesn't quite spit it out...perhaps because his editor wouldn't allow him to actually say something so ridiculous. He does present very interesting data and pushes the reader to explore and justify Euro/American intervention in developing countries.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 29 books403 followers
June 24, 2021
Why is the Global North so much richer?

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond delved into biogeography to explain how the West developed faster and soon became much richer than the rest of the world. The book was an early effort to explore the gap between the Global North and Global South.

The fundamental reason, Diamond asserted, lay in accidents of geography: the Eurasian landmass straddles the globe laterally from East to West, imposing relatively uniform climatic conditions and creating habitats congenial for large animal species such as the cow, the pig, and the sheep that could be readily harnessed for human use. By contrast, the lands of Africa and the Americas are arrayed from North to South and host very few native varieties of such useful large animals. Condensed into one paragraph, this argument raises far more questions than it answers. But laid out in its full glory in Diamond’s engrossing book, the thesis is compelling despite the controversy that continues to surround it.

Jared Diamond is one of a handful of Big Picture thinkers who have attempted with mixed success to make sense of the ebb and flow of human history. Adam Smith was another. So was Karl Marx. Each, in his own way and working within his own discipline, revealed some startling insight about how we came to be the way we are.

Exploring the gap between the Global North and Global South

Ten years after Diamond’s blockbuster came Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms, yet another effort to answer that same profound question addressed in Guns, Germs, and Steel. Why, he asks, are some parts of the world so much richer than others? What explains the yawning gap between the Global North and Global South? Dismissing Diamond, Smith, and Marx alike and finding inspiration instead in Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on Population, Clark locates the answer in his own discipline of economic history. (Why is that not a surprise?)

In a volume riddled with charts, graphs, and “simple” equations only an economist could love, Clark reduces the bigger question to one that’s far more focused: why did the Industrial Revolution occur in Europe, and specifically England, and not somewhere else in the world? Clark’s answer, it turns out, is that beginning in the late Middle Ages rich people in England had more than twice the number of children who survived past the age of five as did the poorest people, so that over the centuries from 1200 to 1800 “bourgeois values,” the attitudes and behaviors that had made people rich, gradually took hold throughout society.

400 pages of charts and graphs to convince you

How did this happen? Because of primogeniture in Europe. There, only first sons inherited the wealth, driving later sons into downward mobile circumstances and thus displacing the poor. “China and Japan did not move as rapidly along the path as England simply because the members of their upper social strata were only modestly more fecund than the mass of the population. Thus there was not the same cascade of children from the educated classes down the social scale.” If you doubt this facile line of argument, Gregory Clark has 400 pages of charts and graphs to convince you.

Before 1800, the “Malthusian Trap”

A Farewell to Alms divides human history into two very broad eras: from the beginning of known history approximately 10,000 years ago, until about 1800; and from 1800 until the present—and beyond. In fact, until 1800, the gap between the Global North and Global South was the opposite of today’s: the world’s richest nations by far were India and China.

Before the Industrial Revolution, Clark asserts, humankind was enmeshed in the Malthusian Trap, a feedback loop in which population grew to consume the food available but died off as it grew too numerous to survive. For millennia, in Clark’s view, the population thus grew at a painfully slow pace from year to year, expanding only to meet the equally slow expansion of agriculture into new regions of arable land, with no sustained gain in income per person.

“The average person in the world of 1800,” Clark writes, “was no better off than the average person of 100,000 BC. Indeed in 1800 the bulk of the world’s population was poorer than their remote ancestors.” While this assertion remains controversial, there is a substantial amount of evidence to support it. The hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic Era subsisted on a far more balanced diet and lived in small communities much less susceptible to infectious disease. Those who lived in daily proximity to farm animals or in crowded cities were vulnerable to periodic epidemics. They were also weakened by their reliance on the cereal grains that dominated their diet.

1800: “The Great Divergence”

Then, around 1800, what has come to be called the Great Divergence took place. Whether the inflection point was 1760 or 1820, as other scholars have suggested, the event that rescued the human race from the Malthusian Trap was the Industrial Revolution. During the century from 1760 to 1860, England’s population tripled—but instead of collapsing in Malthusian fashion, the English people grew richer. So it went throughout much of Europe as well, and thus began the Great Divergence between West and East. For nearly the next 200 years, income per person in those countries that had experienced the Industrial Revolution continued to climb. Meanwhile, population in much of the rest of the world stagnated (and, in Africa, declined). Clark concludes, “There walk the earth now both the richest people who ever lived and the poorest.”

Are we free from the Malthusian Trap?

There’s no denying that income inequality has risen to the greatest extent in human history. Although it’s true that tiny numbers of high-ranking aristocrats in the ancient and pre-modern world may well have lived in luxury while their subjects barely survived, the contrast today between the top five or ten percent of the human race and the rest of us is far more consequential. But Clark’s insistence that the Industrial Revolution brought an end to the Malthusian Trap may be premature.

As global population mounts steadily toward ten billion, we have long since exceeded the carrying capacity of Planet Earth. The consequences remain to be seen. In fact, by the middle of the twentieth century, famine stalked millions in Southern and Eastern Asia and threatened other populous regions. Only the Green Revolution saved the day for the next several decades. But now, once again, with the climate crisis accelerating, massive problems are a certainty. Millions dying of thirst or heatstroke. Brutal wars over ever-scarcer resources. And quite possibly a killer pandemic even more deadly than the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed as much as five percent of the world’s population. Today’s COVID-19 pandemic suggests it’s possible. Malthus may yet have the last word.

The single biggest reason: innovation

Why did the West outpace the rest to such a glaring extent? Clark reasons his way through one popular explanation after another, dismissing them all, and ends up with a single-factor answer: innovation. It was the constant flow of new ideas that enabled the people of the West to increase productivity year after year at a steady rate, enriching their societies and widening the gap between rich nations and poor to the greatest extent ever seen in world history. That ratio now approaches 100:1.

But does innovation alone explain how this came about? Surely, the West has never had a monopoly on innovation. Much of what made the Industrial Revolution possible was rooted in advances in China (paper-making, printing, the compass, and gunpowder) and India (algebra and the decimal system, including the concept of zero). It’s true, of course, that for the last two centuries innovation in technology was primarily confined to the West. But that is by no means any longer the case. Much of the most advanced technological research and development is now underway in China and India.
Challenging, thought-provoking . . . and tedious

A Farewell to Alms is challenging, thought-provoking, perhaps even important. It’s also frustrating and an exceedingly tedious read. Perhaps someday a writer with an engaging style and much less affinity for charts, graphs, and formulas will render Gregory Clark’s thesis into a more readable form.

About the author

Gregory Clark was born in Scotland in 1957 and educated at Harvard and Cambridge universities. He now teaches economic history at the University of California, Davis. A Farewell to Arms was the first of the two books he has written to date.
Profile Image for Aaron Arnold.
428 reviews132 followers
November 6, 2013
I keep thinking that someday, all these Big History books I read that violently disagree with each other on even minor points of history, data, or inferential technique will eventually add up to a single consistent theory, like lights of different wavelengths suddenly cohering prismatically into a pleasant glow of insight. Why are some societies more successful than others? Some argue national real estate (Diamond), others evolutionary dynamics (Turchin), others institutions (Acemoglu/Robinson), others genetics (Harpending/Clark), others religion (pick the religion of your choice), and so on. Whatever Jared Diamond's faults, he deserves a lot of praise for the explosion of books attempting to refine, restate, or refute his arguments in Guns Germs & Steel (which I think has, in the main, held up well), because even if his competitors couldn't disagree with him more, they've all got to at least grudgingly acknowledge his entry into the ring. Clark's work here falls into the latter of those three camps, and is itself divided into three sections: the first, an overview of the logic of the nearly economically static Malthusian trap that every society in the world inhabited until approximately 1800; the second, an explanation of the math behind the Industrial Revolution which allowed a select group of societies to escape that trap; and finally, a cursory look at why many of the poorer nations of the world currently struggle to escape their own Malthusian shackles. His "reverse Idiocracy" thesis of consistent selection pressures leading to increased entrepreneurialism is intriguing, to say the least.

Robert Malthus is one of those infamous writers whose ideas began to carry a lot of uncomfortable ideological baggage almost immediately. Put basically, a Malthusian trap is a condition where a population living in a habitat with fixed resources eventually reaches a state where each additional mouth to feed lowers the standard of living, while an increase in the death rate makes people better off in real terms as the average standard of living goes up, at least until greater birth rates drive wages back down to subsistence level. Thus, in a world with stagnant technology (i.e. 99% of human history), people are stuck endlessly fighting for scraps without any hope of escape. Clark spends a large amount of time reviewing the available evidence showing that in many ways the average European peasant in the 1700s was no better off than their ancestors of a millennium before, or even those of two millennia before in other societies. This led to elaborate measures to restrict output, such as high percentages of the population never marrying, or the imposition of mandatory festival/feast days. He even presents table 2.2, a list of Malthusian "virtues" and "vices", showing how many qualities we currently think of as emblematic of civilization, such as cleanliness or hard work, would in a Malthusian world have the perverse effect of raising the birth rate and therefore lowering everyone's standard of living:
Virtues - Vices:
Fertility limitation - Fecundity
Bad sanitation - Cleanliness
Violence - Peace
Harvest failures - Public granaries
Infanticide - Parental solicitude
Income inequality - Income equality
Selfishness - Charity
Indolence - Hard work

The political implications of those paradoxical effects - such as that efforts to aid the poor were counterproductive and merely enabling misery - were immediately controversial, of course, and spawned a lot of awful social Darwinist thinking, but while Malthus had the misfortune to publish his thoughts right before the Industrial Revolution rendered them obsolete, his thinking lives on in many situations where one can assume a fixed quantity of some resource and conditions where individual attempts to gain more can lead to less overall (e.g. Malthus' work was of great interest to the economist John Maynard Keynes when the Great Depression led to his theories of the liquidity trap and the paradox of thrift and so on). Clark's takeaway, backed up by a lot of data on things like the average amount of money left in 18th century English wills, is somewhat social Darwinist as well: in England, the forced downward mobility generated by the Malthusian trap - meaning that rich people tended to have less rich children, even less rich grandchildren, etc. - combined with a slightly greater chance of the children of the rich (though not necessarily of the aristocracy, who frequently died in stupid conflicts) would survive compared to the children of the poor meant that over generations, even though society as a whole was not getting a lot richer, rich people traits were being spread, merely awaiting the right moment to saltate society up to the next level. One could argue that higher death rates might be corrosive to social institutions that help people escape the trap, but in England, in particular, death due to violence was not very high, and even today people do not react to deaths from disease the way they do to deaths from crime or war.

The idea that societies can exert genetic selection pressures on themselves is not new, of course - when in history have societies not praised themselves for being superior to their neighbors? - but Clark asks us to hold that thought while he discusses the extremely slow rate of technological progress over time. While pre-1800 Europe did manage to borrow, develop, or invent a number of technologies that the Romans and Greeks did not, such as stirrups, windmills, buttons, spinning wheels, clocks, spectacles, firearms, and printing, according to Clark in chapter 7 the effect of these inventions on growth was surprisingly small: "In the 1,750 years between the birth of Christ and the eve of the Industrial Revolution the technology improved by a total of 24 percent, based on these population estimates. That is, on aggregate economies in 1750 produced on 24 percent more output per acre of land, at a given level of people per acre, than in AD 1. That was why the world was trapped in the Malthusian era for so long."

There's a brief digression on the interaction between population density and technological progress which is about the closest he comes to meeting Diamond head on. Guns Germs & Steel mentioned places like Tasmania and Tierra del Fuego where the inhabitants lived miserable primitive existences bereft of all but the most rudimentary technology; Diamond's theory was very straightforward about how those place's lack of useful resources doomed their societies to being perpetual also-rans. Clark, on the other hand, while he points out that in many cases those societies had actually regressed (e.g. Easter Islanders losing the ability to make more statues, or Inuits moving from large permanent houses to smaller snow huts), he doesn't really integrate those examples into the main body of this theory. Clark's assumption is that comparing societies to each other over time can be done with the equivalent of a simple inflation adjustment - if technology has progressed by 24 percent by 1750, then just deflate modern figures by 24 percent and so peasants are at about the same level they were under the Emperor Augustus or whoever. Yet Tasmania has obviously never been truly comparable to Tang dynasty China in wealth, population, sophistication, etc., and no amount of simple renormalization can hide that. Unfortunately without at least a rough quantitative measure it's impossible to do anything but vague qualitative comparisons, so while I see the limitations of Clark's approach I think it's useful enough for his purposes.

This is where something like an institutional theory would be useful, and Clark presents a sharply different view on institutions and incentives than Acemoglu and Robinson. Table 8.1 accompanies an interesting argument that institutions alone can't explain economic success, because most medieval societies were in many ways far closer to the low-tax, low-debt, low-inflation, free-market, Adam Smithian ideal of how economies should be run than their highly regulated modern descendants who typically enjoy much faster growth even in bad decades. That sounds a bit glib to me - as discussed in Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, even if tax rates themselves were much lower, and the government's ability to collect was limited, the amount of arbitrary in-kind levies on the populace to ransom captured nobles or pay for pointless wars had large effects on medieval populations. Furthermore, in many cases merchants had restrictions placed on them by governments, capital markets were weak or nonexistent (or were frequently obliterated if they were run by Jews), and guilds were not on the level of modern labor markets. But that aside, Clark's discussions of the phenomenon of falling real interest rates in Northwest Europe and the slow spread of literacy are but a prelude to the beginning of the second section, where shows that "investments in knowledge capital that generate efficiency growth not only explain most modern growth at the proximate level, they explain all modern growth."

I'm a big fan of the way he phrases the third paragraph of chapter 11, because it really puts into perspective the enormous gap between modern first world societies and all premodern societies, European or not: "What makes the Industrial Revolution so difficult to understand is the need to comprehend why - despite huge variation in the customs, mores, and institutions of preindustrial societies - none of them managed to sustain even moderate rates of productivity growth, by modern standards, over any significant time period. What was different about ALL preindustrial societies that generated such low and faltering rates of efficiency growth? What change to such a stable nongrowth configuration generated the Industrial Revolution?" His answer: "Millennia of living in stable societies, under tight Malthusian pressures that rewarded effort, accumulation, and fertility limitation, encouraged the development of cultural forms - in terms of work inputs, time preference, and family formation - which facilitated modern economic growth."

To a first approximation, the story of the Industrial Revolution (or as he calls it, the "Industrious" Revolution) is the story of the cotton textile industry, yet Clark is firmly anti-Carlyle in his assertion that history of the study of aggregates, not individuals. Therefore while the stories of the people who innovated in the industry are interesting, their parts are details. Put briefly, the second section demonstrates that the Industrial Revolution was a dramatic shift in the importance of skilled labor in its contributions to the efficiency of the economy overall. Whereas before land was a large percentage of any country's economy, since the majority were farmers, in seemingly the blink of an eye land became nearly irrelevant, and workers became more more effective at turning a given amount of input into output. The increase in literacy and numeracy in England gave workers there the advantage in propelling the increase in living standards, although most other similar societies were not far behind, and since successful people had more children than unsuccessful ones, soon a critical mass of the population of the country became industrious, and the rest is history. The majority of the chapters in the section are devoted to technical breakdowns of demographic changes, productivity increases, resource utilization, returns to capital investments, etc., yet some parts jumped out at me, like where he talked about the lack of British Carnegies/Rockefellers/Stanfords:

"... It is for this reason that in Britain, unlike in the United States, there are very few universities and major charities funded by private donors. The Industrial Revolution did not result in great personal or family fortunes in England. By the 1860s the rich were still by and large the descendants of the landed aristocracy. Of 379 men dying between 1860 and 1879 in Britain who left at least .5 million pounds, 256 (68 percent) owed their wealth to inherited land. As we saw in chapter 11, only 17 (4 percent) were textile magnates, even though the textile industry had driven the productivity advance of the Industrial Revolution."

The final section discusses why so many parts of the world are still so poor, despite the fact that transportation costs have plummeted, information travels nearly instantaneously, capital investments in poor countries bring in profitable returns, and low labor costs should be a powerful competitive advantage. His conclusion, simply, is that poorer countries are really bad in terms of both generating human capital and translating labor into value. Like most people, I'm wary of explanations for societal success that smack of "Well, some peoples are just meant to be hewers of wood and drawers of water", and one thing to mention that most readers will have noticed by now is that Clark's math/data-based conclusions are highly dependent on the quality of that data. Much like with my earlier comment on the Tasmania comparison, garbage in is garbage out, and so it's fair to wonder how it's possible to accurately compare all these different societies across time and space in the way he does. Well, a strong argument in his favor is that the societies with the best historical data (above all England, but there are plenty of others) are also the societies that ended up being successful, so the presence of data itself should be a good indicator that a society has key factors together. Further, his productivity statistics are basically inarguable, so the challenge for doubters would be to come up with alternate measures, which seems tough to do.

Also note that the question he's trying to answer is "Why was the Industrial Revolution in England FIRST?" Obviously the world is rapidly getting richer, and it's reasonable to think that within another generation or two a majority of the world's population will be either at or reasonably close to the technological possibility frontier currently enjoyed by only a small minority. While his explanation for Europe's prominence here relies on the genetic diffusion of bourgeois middle values thanks to Malthusian selection, he wrote a response to his critics titled "In Defense of the Malthusian Interpretation of History" where he discusses other possibilities for how those could be spread through a population. The "right" answer to that question aside, everyday experience indicates that immigrants from poorer countries who move to first world countries make such massive income leaps that culture plays a huge role, at least at the individual level. Since this is a book of data, "culture" is too big a subject to get a lot of time, which prevents this book from being anything close to the last word, but I think the Malthusian explanation is interesting enough that I would love to see him and Peter Turchin compare notes to see if there's a way to model the spread of bourgeois genes/values that Clark posits. I firmly believe that the cure for bad models and data isn't no models and data, it's more models and data, so hopefully Clark keeps writing.

Regardless of any shortcomings, this is still an interesting book, and definitely worthy of a place on the Big History shelf alongside all the others.
1 review1 follower
February 7, 2012
I came across this interesting book on world economic history titled, “A Farewell to Alms” by Gregory Clark. Whenever, I open such a book my first impulse is to flip through pages and see what the author has to say about India. Most of the times, unfortunately, I am not surprised. A book that displays brilliance in its analysis and coverage otherwise, usually completely breaks down when talking about societies like India. It is almost always a typical representation of the Anglo-Saxon view of history and evolution of societies, invariably betraying the “winners write the history” syndrome. So while Clark talks about how England compares in different aspects of social sophistication to India on the eve of industrial revolution, he shows that India lagged behind England in terms of its data availability on real wages. This lack is somehow to constitute a judgment on England being a better candidate for industrial revolution than India.

Unfortunately, one of the aspects of being a poor country is that it is pretty difficult to have a sophisticated database system to meet your current needs, let alone historical ones. I am sure there is data available in scattered sources but is not yet compiled. I was told of a huge collection of manuscripts in now extinct modi script which has not been even touched by any historian till date.

In arguing that average English worker around 1800 ACE was relatively well off and hence well, he uses the Engles’s law to show how food consumption behaves with income. Obviously, as income increases people eat more meat and this is indeed true for the English workers. How does an average Indian compare to this? Based on a 1950 Government of India survey, he shows that an average Indian did not consume as much meat as an English worker in 1800 ACE for comparable income levels. A thing to note about this is that he does not control for cultural influences while talking about nature of food consumption and its relation to income. Unless you control for that, especially in case of India, an average Indian even today can be shown to consume less meat compared to its counterpart in China or United States. This is because India has a strong historical bias towards vegetarianism that has its origins in the rise of Buddhism. I am sure there is similar explanation for lack of milk consumption in China. But I will let the Chinese speak for themselves. The point is that if you do not put historical data in proper context you are bound to be lead astray. Unfortunately Clark engages in such out of context quantitative economic history.

Clark’s analysis also has some examples of selective empiricism. The case in point is that of the architecture of the Vijayanagar empire. He accepts that it is grand but concedes that it is no way closer in terms of engineering feat to the Roman pantheon and hence that reflects the technological backwardness of India and probably its ill-preparedness for industrial revolution compared to England. I am invariably always baffled by this insatiable urge of measuring every civilization against the Roman without considering the fact that most aspects of civilization respond to necessitates of time, availability of resources, political needs and even compulsions of weather conditions! For example, would it be correct to say that Romans were backward because they could only carve on a soft stone like marble or because they could never even imagine carving a monolithic stone marvel like the Kailas temple? This will sound plain simple absurd even to Greg Clark and yet he does not even take a step back and think before making this comparison.

Indian architecture varies across time and space so much that it is difficult to pick any one example and deem it representative of backwardness or advancement and that too only against achievements of one civilization. We have examples of sophisticated planned cities with water ways and drainage systems dating back to 3000 BCE ( Mohen jo Daro & Harappa for example) to brilliant temple complexes displaying grandiose stone carvings and advanced design implementations. If only for once Clark and likes care to look at the world without the condescending Anglo-Saxon glasses!

As an aside, I would like to point out that India ranks pretty high in terms of intellectual achievements in philosophy, logic and mathematics. Please refer to my earlier post on Indians and Maths to get a glimpse of the impressive work Indians did on this front. Same is the story about logic. These all achievements were realized well before England had anything close to a civilization!

How will these kinds of factors play out in Greg Clark’s story? Talking about context, how does caste system factor in the dissemination of such knowledge contributing to a general rise in human capital? A pure quantitative approach to economic history is lost on such puzzling specificities and Clark’s book is no exception to this.

So is there anything right in Clark’s book? Fortunately the answer is yes. His take on fertility being a defining factor for preconditions of industrial revolution has a substantial grain of truth. For example, until recently India experienced stagnation because of increase in life expectancy along with little change in fertility and little or no technological progress. His exposition of Malthusian model is superb and would serve as a good antidote to anyone who pines to reclaim the past material glory for his country as such a thing did not ever exist in the Malthusian economies of the world.

By making this review of Clark’s book on world economic history India centric, I don’t want to sound jingoist and imply that India had all the potential for industrial revolution or India had achieved everything West claims its own. However, I do object to conclusions based on half baked and ill-informed theories, especially from otherwise first rate academics.
Profile Image for Jindřich Zapletal.
92 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2021
The book is concerned with the traditional big question of economic history: why did industrial revolution happen where and when it happened. The author comes to the conclusion that middle class values did it, and moreover that these values stem from genetic differences which set (Western) middle class apart from other people.

This is of course just a comical attempt to pander to a certain type of reader. Clearly, the industrial revolution was caused by massive experimentation and innovation. I live surrounded by Western middle class, and these people are mostly the opposite of what I call innovative. I could not help imagining Clark's book from 2100 arguing that Chinese apparatchiks are genetically superior to everyone else.

Still, parts of the book separate from the final "conclusion" made for interesting, thought-provoking reading. I found out for example that an economic historian is willing to compare living standards of workers in 1600CE England and 2000BCE Mesopotamia and instead of admitting that the whole enterprise is entirely dubious and the available evidence is unreliable and meager in the extreme, he will actually claim that it supports his grand vision of human condition. What does it tell us about economic history as a branch of science?
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
497 reviews727 followers
January 21, 2015
This book is part of the sub-genre that might be titled, if being honest, “Why Are All Today’s Rich People Europeans, Actually or Honorary”? It’s fascinating, though ultimately has, if not holes, lacunae that still need to be filled in before the argument becomes compelling.

Clark’s basic thesis is that certain desirable social traits arising in the English upper and upper-middle classes spread through the larger population, thereby allowing technological changes (which otherwise would not have done so) to accelerate per capita income in a way never before possible. A basic corollary of his thesis, which he attempts to demonstrate with fairly limited data, is that even today in non-Western societies, even with the technology produced by the West, most societies are incapable of sustained advances in their per capita standard of living (i.e., that technological advancement by itself is inadequate to accelerate per capita income). The reason for this, which he implies in passing he believes but shrinks from stating, is that those non-Western cultures are bad and/or the people in them are less intelligent.

Clark’s initial focus is on the Malthusian Trap, and Ricardo’s Iron Law of Wages—in short, that until the Industrial Revolution in England, no society could sustain an increase in per capita national income, because as income per capita increased, population increased as well, and due to diminishing returns, the per capital national income was forced back down to equilibrium. He does an excellent job of explaining this using various microeconomics-type graphs and the like. The concept is that any increase in per capita income, whether caused by technology, harder work, or any other cause, only increases population in the long term, not per capita income. (Malthus is typically remembered for a variation on this, the idea that as incomes increase linearly, population increases exponentially, leading to “corrections.” Malthus, of course, is mostly laughed at for this nowadays, because he had the misfortune, or fortune, of writing immediately before in his country this became no longer true. But it’s still true in much of the world.)

Clark’s next focus is on why 18th-century England escaped the Malthusian trap—i.e., why the Industrial Revolution steadily increased per-capita income, vastly faster than population growth, and that increase in per-capita income has continued to this day. He rejects various rationales—he demonstrates that in England property rights were no more stable than in the past; that technology did not increase rewards to inventors or adopters; and so forth.

Clark demonstrates pretty convincingly that until late 18th-century England, no society on average lived above a subsistence level, and, indeed, that a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer lived better than a 16th-century Englishman. (This is actually pretty well known, that an Englishman of 1000 A.D. was much better fed and healthy than an Englishman of 1500—but normally the declining health is chalked up to the Industrial Revolution, whereas Clark demonstrates the opposite. Clark also doubtless offends the politically correct by pointing out that in the supposed pre-contact paradise of Polynesia, between two-thirds and three-quarters of all children were killed immediately on birth, thus keeping per capita income high in a society that otherwise would have had low mortality.) He also demonstrates that most pre-modern societies, historically and today, are filled with lazy people with characteristics not conducive to long-term gain. Or, as he puts it, “Based on the observation of modern forager and shifting cultivation societies we would expect that the early agriculturalists were impulsive, violent, innumerate, illiterate and lazy. Ethnographies of such groups emphasize high rates of time preference, high levels of interpersonal violence, and low work inputs. Abstract reasoning abilities were limited.” Not for Clark the idea that all societies are basically filled with intelligent strivers, merely limited by their circumstances.

Clark then posits that the people of England changed, due to various “modern” characteristics, such as prudence, delayed gratification, consistent excellent work, and so on, first coming to dominate the rich, who then had more children, who (because they could not all share equally in the inheritance), moved down the social ladder, but taking their characteristics with them. He repeatedly and strongly implies he thinks these people changed genetically to embody these characteristics, but doesn’t pursue it. This change, combined with “enhanced production of knowledge capital,” or increased technology, together meant the escape from the Malthusian Trap.

Of course, this means both that the traditional economic libertarian belief that if we merely have the right structures, all peoples can be equally satisfied, doesn’t work. The people themselves have to change. It also means that the belief that the poor peoples of the world are poor is not only not the fault of colonialism, or (pace Jared Diamond) their geography, or some other external cause, but their own fault.

Clark says very little about Europeans other than the English, even though many of the characteristics he attributes to the English were certainly prevalent in other European nations (such as the Dutch). Maybe there’s no data—he certainly leans heavily on what seems to be a unique English set of data going back to 1200 A.D. or so. He does not really address the question why, if the unique English characteristics filtered throughout the population for reasons mostly found in England, why other European nations also quickly escaped the Malthusian Trap. He implies, but does not state, that other European nations shared in the benefits of the Industrial Revolution because their cultures were willing and able to immediately adapt to take advantage of the technological changes provided by England. Clark also states explicitly, with some data, that the reason China and Japan did not follow the same trajectory independently as England prior to England is because rich men did not have many more children than poorer men, unlike in England. Presumably, China and Japan ultimately followed and are following the same path as the rest of Europe—using the technology developed in England, combined with adapting their cultures, to accelerate per capita income. Plausible, but not really demonstrated.

Also, Clark’s data on inferior work abilities of modern non-rich countries is limited to (very good and detailed) data about Indian textile workers. He points out how inefficient they and all other Third World workers are (by which he largely means simple incompetence) even today, and how hand weaving is still a huge part of Indian textile production. Clark generally posits that most global workers have low efficiency, and because growth is essentially wholly explained by efficiency, they will be poor as long as they have low efficiency. This is why, other than in China, low-wage economies have generally not been able to exploit their advantages. But there’s probably a lot more than needs to be demonstrated with hard data.

Finally, Clark does not address the role of bad institutions and culture in non-growth countries (other than demonstrating that in Indian textiles bad management has nothing to do with inefficiency). He proves that England did not have worse institutions prior to the Industrial Revolution, and therefore England’s success was not due to a change in institutions. But that proves nothing about other countries, particularly those with highly pernicious cultures and institutions such as most of Africa and Asia—it is entirely possible those bad characteristics explain in whole or in part the inefficiencies, even if they are irrelevant to the European historical analysis. That explanation, though, would somewhat undercut Clark’s main thesis that a change, probably genetic, in people in England was what made European growth possible.
Profile Image for xhxhx.
50 reviews30 followers
February 21, 2015
A controversial thesis: in an agrarian society with an open social structure and strong (Malthusian) upper limits on population growth, natural selection will favor the more productive. The evidence: in a small population of farmers in late medieval Suffolk, the more productive had more children than the less productive. The fixation of the traits of the productive in early modern England promoted the development and adoption of capital-intensive technologies.

Selection pressures were weaker in China and Japan; they had not yet reached the Malthusian limit. During the early modern period, China had a large interior frontier, and Japan promoted a 'cleanliness' that permitted high rates of urbanization.

Clark is a great believer in long-term, standard and consistent patterns of growth. Clark even sketches out an argument for a strong upswing in manufacturing productivity beginning in the 1400s – although only in prestige goods, such as paper, glass, and machines. His is a thousand-year industrial revolution. Human capital formation is important to Clark's theory, but in a curious way. Clark takes them is a marker for the effects of his selection mechanism, not an independent input into the growth formula. Thus, that England's literacy rates improved to high levels over the half-millennium from 1200 is not virtuous in itself – investment in human capital was uneconomic in that environment, since the returns to education were low; this was a consumption good, not an intermediate one &ndsah; but it indicates that there has been a critical development in the human stock. This is why, per Clark, the crucial innovations and productivity gains happened in Britain: it was the only nation that had the skilled population base to do so.

Most of the work is unobjectionable. The bulk of the work amounts to a summary quantitative economic history: estimates of calorie consumption in hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies, real wages from the 1200s on, etc.

Clark returns to controversy in the last part of the book. Here he suggests that the reason for persistent underdevelopment in the Third World is not policy errors, but the low quality of the labor stock.

Clark describes labor-intensive, high-cost work in Indian textile mills. Despite low wage rates, labor costs in the mills equal those in American and British mills, and capital costs are the same. Why? Because Indian labor was less productive than American and British labor. A British laborer could man 5 automated looms; an Indian could only man 1.5. The Indian labor force was unreliable, marked by high rates of absenteeism, inattention, and disregard for plant standards. For Clark, the implications are clear.

The riposte to Clark is two-fold: first, immigrants entering developed countries rapidly improve output and productivity, and their living standards approach native levels; and second, through good policy, developing nations can approach developed-nation output and productivity standards. Persistent underdevelopment can be corrected: South Korea after 1953, China after 1978, and India after 1987 all testify to that fact.

Clark believes that he has a counter-argument here. He asks why, if good public policy is enough for growth, England did not have an industrial revolution during the high middle ages. It had liberalized markets in capital and labour, stable government, low inflation. The proper counterargument to Clark here would be as follows: first, that evaluations of public policy must be conditional on the international environment, and the international environment of 1200 is radically different from that of 1900 or 2000; and second, that in Clark's own argument stable government and clear incentives to productivity (as provided by liberalized markets) are needed for his selection mechanism to function, and only in England – thanks to a positive domestic and international environment – did the mechanism operate.

It is clear that Clark has a particular distaste for development economics. With uncharacteristic hyperbole, he calls the World Bank and IMF cult-centers of the economic faith, with economists as the priestly caste presiding over a half-century of failed programs founded on irrational supposition. He declares that development economics is akin to the medieval theory of the humours – that the doctors do not recognize the folly of their blood-letting, believing that the patient only needs more of the cure. Clark cites William Easterly to this invective. I believe Clark's venom has clouded his judgement here.

Clark's research on textile work in developed and developing nations is intriguing, but he discounts too heavily the impact of public policy and institutions on growth path – especially short-term growth path, and lagging nation growth path – and the implied conclusions – that developing nations need a new racial stock, or are otherwise too helpless or stagnant to be moved by appropriate intervention and reform – are too unpalatable to be accepted on such thin evidence.
Profile Image for L.
782 reviews21 followers
July 6, 2022
How little we know!

I think the publisher's blurb for this book gives an inaccurate impression of what it's about. It is true that Gregory Clark comes to a conclusion about the Industrial Revolution that is at odds with what you may have heard and with much contemporary scholarship. (And it may indeed be wrong!) However, the real point is not where he arrives, but how he gets there.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the reason the origins of the Industrial Revolution are obscure is that we don't know what happened. People who are accustomed to living in a world in which economic activity is obsessively and quantitatively tracked (that would include everyone reading this review -- even if economic data is not top of mind for you personally, you do live in a world that has it) usually don't realize how very, very little we know of economic activity earlier than a couple hundred years ago. People who confidently make pronouncements about the economy of the Roman Empire, for instance, almost certainly don't know what they're talking about.

Gregory Clark is an economist who has built a career out of reconstructing economic history of distant times from such inadequate sources as are available. If you enjoy real investigations, then you will admire the ingenious ways Clark comes up with to collect data from the distant past and extract economic numbers from it. His The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (you may notice that he likes to make his book titles puns on Hemingway novels) traces the history of surnames to study economic mobility.

Clark is one of a kind. There's probably not enough room in his field for another, but it is good that we have one. People who remind us how little we know are invaluable.

Blog review
Profile Image for 余馨.
30 reviews3 followers
April 10, 2019
I thought it had been fairly well established even in mainstream economics that the value of animal, female, child, indentured, enslaved, environmental and natural resource inputs have not historically been adequately accounted for in the balance sheets of hierarchical western male economic systems.

Yet here is a man in a white tower: delusional, so removed from history, and the understanding of life as real people worldwide live and have lived it, that reading his book had all the blood-chilling fascination of hearing a sociopath give an account of his world view - which is essentially what this book amounts to.

Surely only a sociopath writing from within a particularly blinkered and delusional corner of western male economic thought could subtitle their work "A Brief Economic History of the World" and not tackle such issues as how the slavery of women, children, animals, entire nations have contributed to the coffers of the wealthy few; not consider the costs of colonisation nor the immense value to the colonisers; not account for theft of resources from finite natural systems; not account for thefts of land, livelihood from other human societies and from other species; not account for environmental devastation, species loss, pollution, loss of clean water, air, arable land, the great human and environmental costs of wars waged to ensure and enhance systems that profit the few.

The benefit I suppose of writing a broad sweeping overview, is that you can try to sneak some whoppers past an audience slack jawed and dazed by your procession of charts and tables that nonsensically and ahistorically compare incomparable entities.

The whopper in just one example being, that Indians are, Clarke says, without wishing to be At All politically uncorrected, well, they're just a bit *lazy*. Oh yes. He says this.

I couldn't help imagining all the other responsibilities (family, social, political, agricultural...) that a Bombay ring spinning attendant might have had in addition to the mindless, repetitive labour of doffing, creeling and piecing. It is well documented, and reported by a bemused Clarke, that to the detriment of the efficiency of the enterprise, Indian workers were able successfully to insist on employment conditions that included high "absenteeism" (sic) and job-share arrangements. I can only assume that such agreements meant they could also honour their other life responsibilities (such working conditions were evidently agreed to by local managers with an understanding of workers' lives). My educated guess would be that the Indian workers lived in a society which would not allow a young unmarried female into a workplace (indeed the Indian photos show male workers exclusively and not young males at that), whereas the statistics for England reveal that it is the contrastingly and comparatively unencumbered young unmarried woman who is employed in the mills of Manchester. One can only wonder what the social situation and obligations of the Indian worker were. Clarke does not say, but if *I* can see that the English and Indian workers are not remotely, demographically interchangeable cogs in the same efficient industrial machine, why can he not see it?

There is none so blind as those who will not see.

Yet I can not help but see. See the skilled and hardworking Indigenous cattlemen and women of Australia who worked For Free, For Years to maintain connection to the country that to them had a higher value than a western economist could ever understand.

I can not turn a blind eye to the history of their press-ganged Coolie counterparts: desperate "economic migrants" from those southern regions of China particularly ravaged by the Opium wars and the subsequent punishing British "treaties". Clarke can. In fact the only "economic migrants" he can't ignore are the Sassoon family, in whom the sociopathic gene must be strong enough to approximate almost familial bonds with others of the global elite. Amongst the wealthiest of Baghdad merchants in the late 18C, they were chased from the city for defending Jewish rights. This luckily liberated the family to prosper in the wider world. Their proclivities and connections well placed them to become central to opium trading, with subsidiary interests in transport, trade and land dealing. With that sort of enterprising spirit they made themselves immediately useful to the ruling elite, and in return it was mere decades before they were absorbed into the English aristocracy. After all, the Sassoons had provided real and material support for the dirty British campaign in China.

Whilst Clark lavishes several pages on this "outstanding example of the entrepreneurial freedom within the British Empire", so many untold stories lie behind the concentration of the wealth and work of the earth and its creatures into the hands of a few men and their allies.

I see and grieve for the victims of all the unmentioned wars, for the unvalued pain of animals enslaved in industrial agriculture, for All The Frogs who have died through permeation of pesticides into every known ecosystem, for the last white rhino, for the bleaching of corals, for the Iraqi mothers (rates of neonatal defects in a country desecrated for 25 years with depleted uranium warheads, now there's a chart for your next book Clark)...

I dragged myself sobbing through this book. It is unintentionally, and only through it's glaring omissions and blindnesses, an explanation for why we are in the mess we are in.
Profile Image for Joshua Hruzik.
17 reviews3 followers
September 25, 2016
A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark is refreshing, clever, and well-written.

In his exceptional book, UC Davis Prof. Gregory Clark sets out to write A Brief Economic History of the World while focusing on the Industrial Revolution.

The book starts by introducing the reader to the static Malthusian world that spanned from the Neolithic age until 1800. For ordinary people, the Malthusian world was a world of economic stagnation not comparable to today's growth rates. Material well-being could (in the long-run) only be attained by increased death rates or decreased fertility. However, around the year 1800 the Malthusian world came to an end. The Industrial Revolution increased the material living standard of the general population as it has never been witnessed before. How did it happen and why are there societies that are yet to overcame the Malthusian trap - this is the question the Author sets out to answer. It is noting less than the eternal question of economics which has already been posed by the old Adam Smith.

Clark's answer to that question is clever, new, and controversial: The Malthusian world was basically a world of constant downward social mobility where the economically successful enjoyed a reproductive advantage over the less successful. The lower ranks of society were more and more filled with the descendants of the rich. Bourgeois work ethics (diligence, discipline, and frugality) trickled down into society, making it more susceptible for sustained economic growth. Nonetheless, until today, it is mainly the western world which enjoys high standards of living throughout all ranks of society - so why is there no catch-up in poor countries? According to the author, it is not the lack of capital or the lack of technology but inefficiencies in the workforce which offset the prevailing advantage in wage levels.

A Farewell to Alms is controversial in many respects. First of all, the book parts ways with the institutional consensus in economics and economic history. According to authors such as North (economic history) or Acemoglu (economics), bad institutions (e.g. lack of incentives, insecure property rights and/or an anti-social ruling elite) are responsible for the lack of economic growth. Clark dismisses the idea of good institutions as being the driving force behind economic growth (however, he does not degrade institutions to insignificance). Secondly, his theory has a strong socio-Darwinian taste which some readers might find unpleasing.

The book is a milestone and should be read by any serious student of economic history. Its greatest strength lies in its description of the pre-industrial world. It makes a very good case for a picture of the past characterized by economic stagnation. Also, Clark's explanation of economic growth is a great addition to the prevailing canon of theories because it successfully incorporates ideas and mindsets (a factor which is often overlooked) into explaining economic growth. However, the book does have flaws. Its major defect is the parsimonious discussion of competing theories. There are many other theories which deserve to be discussed in greater detail. For example, there is almost no reference to the significance of foreign trade in overcoming the Malthusian trap before the industrial revolution and only incidental remarks concerning the Agrarian Revolution of the 19th century. The second defect is his technical appendix. The most extensive statistical tool used is a bi-variate scatter plot. It is ok to do this for the casual reader but more sophisticated models should be included inside the technical appendix. Also, his treatment of the Great Divergence (extreme inequality in terms of economic performance across countries) is not as sophisticated as his treatment of past increases in economic performance inside the western world.

Overall, it is very good economic history and deserves to be read and digested.
Profile Image for Milele.
220 reviews5 followers
March 5, 2012
There is some good history, data and analysis in this book but also a bunch of ethical problems and flawed comparators. Ekr raised the ethical issues on his blog post, but it can be summed up as "please don't describe a society as well-off because of caloric intake and dismissing whether it has a high infanticide rate, infant death rate, death rate due to war or crime, plus completely ignoring issues of equality and violent crimes against minorities, minors and women."

There's also lots of white/Western male dominated viewpoint. Other reviewers have pointed out he judges societies based on assuming that the Romans must have had the best technology of their time (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) , and he finds weak evidence (which he pounds to death) that the Western bourgeois values cause economic success and well-being. I'll add that he never considers the cost to women of any social order; it's the diet and, to a lesser extent life expectancy and inheritance expectations of males, which dominates his analysis.
Profile Image for Mowry.
29 reviews1 follower
September 13, 2007
This is a fantastic book that uses some pretty interesting (and thorough) historical data to set a few economic assumptions about the Industrial Revolution on their heads. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in economics and serious scholarship.

My only criticism: Clark spends a lot of time developing his theory on why the Industrial Revolution happened where and when it happened, but does very little to make suggestions to current economic policy. I'm very interested in how he thinks his work can be used to solve modern economic problems. Perhaps he wanted to only lay the groundwork for some very controversial arguments without actually being the one to say them (that not all cultures are ready for the Industrial Revolution and that modern intervention in sub-Saharan Africa has, on average, made everyone there worse off). Nonetheless, I look forward to where other economists will take his work and theories.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,255 reviews630 followers
August 21, 2017
lots of statistics and one simple theory - the only thing that counts is income and after essentially being flat per capita (though its distribution varied greatly from hunter gatherer societies to Versailles or the Dutch Republic of the 1600's say) from earliest known times until around the 1800's, it then exploded in some parts of the world but declined in others

lots of food for thought and a book for our times especially in its again simple prescription for ameliorating poverty in the world
132 reviews2 followers
June 29, 2019
Książka podejmuję tematykę historii gospodarczej świata z perspektywy rewolucji przemysłowej. Jest ona podzielona na trzy części: opis świata przed rewolucją przemysłową, opis przebiegu rewolucji przemysłowej oraz czasy współczesne. W książce znajdziemy dużo tabelek z danymi i wykresami opisującymi różne wskaźniki związane z poziomem życia ludzi.

W pierwszej części znajdziemy dość dokładny opis działania pułapki maltuzjańskiej. Jest to mechanizm, w którym w wyniku poprawy poziomu życia rośnie liczebność populacji, co następnie wpływa na spadek poziomu życia, ponieważ zmniejsza się dochód per capita. Cytując autora: „W świecie przedprzemysłowym sporadyczny postęp techniczny nie prowadził do wzrostu zamożności, lecz wytwarzał ludzi”. Ten mechanizm bardzo dobrze opisuje sytuację w świecie zwierzęcym oraz u ludzi przed rewolucją przemysłową. Wynikało to z ograniczonych możliwości produkcyjnych oraz dużej zależności od natury i ilości ziemi.

Gęstość zaludnienia bardzo radykalnie wpływała na sposób życia ludzi, ponieważ podaż ziemi była stała. W urodzajnych obszarach niewielka grupa ludzi mogła żyć małym nakładem pracy, ponieważ często polowania/zbieractwo było wstanie zaspokoić podstawowe potrzeby ludzi. Przez to też ludzie pierwotni niewiele pracowali w stosunku do ludzi współczesnych. Ale wraz ze wzrostem liczebności populacji coraz trudniej było przeżyć w ten sposób, więc ludzie zaczęli wieść osiadły styl życia i uprawiać rośliny, co wymagało większych nakładów pracy. Wraz ze wzrostem populacji trzeba było też uprawiać coraz intensywniej ziemię, co przynosiło coraz mniejsze efekty i wymagało coraz więcej pracy (prawo malejących przychodów krańcowych). Dlatego wraz ze zbliżaniem się do czasów współczesnych średni czas pracy rósł (a dochód malał) aby w przededniu rewolucji przemysłowej osiągnąć wartość szczytową. Jednak w czasie rewolucji przemysłowej czas pracy zaczął się zmniejszać aż do czasów współczesnych.

Z tych powodów przed rewolucją przemysłową pod pewnymi względami ludzie pierwotni żyli znacznie lepiej, niż ludzie np. w średniowieczu. Ale warto pamiętać o tym, że w tych społecznościach panowała wszechobecna przemoc (masa zabójstw, gwałtów, dzieciobójstw), która ograniczała wzrost populacji. Wbrew ludowej opinii średniowiecze nie było krwawym okresem w historii. Było wiele wojen ale w wojnach brało udział bardzo niewielu ludzi. W Europie współczynnik zabójstw (zarówno w wyniku przestępstw jak i wojen) był większy o rząd wielkości (kilka dziesiątych promila na rok) w stosunku do czasów współczesnych, ale i tak był przynajmniej o rząd wielkości mniejszy od poziomu przemocy w społeczeństwach pierwotnych (od kilku do kilkunastu promili zabójstw na rok) oraz niektórych współczesnych krajach trzeciego świata.

Interesującym przykładem działania pułapki maltuzjańskiej jest to, że to co większość ludzi uznaje za zjawiska niepożądane (wojny, epidemie, ludobójstwa) potrafi znacznie podnieść standard życia ludzi (oczywiście tych co przeżyją). W średniowieczu ludzie cieszyli się największym dobrobytem materialnym zaraz po zdziesiątkowaniu Europy przez czarną śmierć.

Autor opisuje także zmiany społeczne, które zachodziły w Europie oraz stawia tezę, dlaczego według niego do rewolucji przemysłowej doszło w Europie. Według niego jest to związane z ewolucją oraz kulturą. W wielu społecznościach pierwotnych największy sukces reprodukcyjny osiągali najbardziej agresywni mężczyźni. Natomiast w społecznościach osiadłych, w których panowały w miarę stabilne warunki oraz istniała własność prywatna, sukces reprodukcyjny mężczyzn był ściśle skorelowany z sukcesem ekonomicznym. Zamożniejsi mężczyźni częściej mieli młodsze żony, dłużej żyli, mieli więcej dzieci, które także częściej przeżywały. Wyższe sfery mają dość ograniczoną pojemność, więc większość z tych dzieci przechodziło do niższych klas społecznych (np. dzieci bogatych właścicieli ziemskich zostawały mniejszymi właścicielami ziemskimi lub rzemieślnikami). Z tego też powodu geny oraz wartości kulturowe ludzi, którzy osiągali sukces ekonomiczny powoli rozprzestrzeniały się w społeczeństwie (biedni ludzie mieli mniej urodzonych i przeżywających dzieci).

Według autora ludzkość powoli dostosowywała się do czasów współczesnych, ponieważ stawała się coraz bardziej średnioklasowa (mniejsza ilość przemocy, upowszechnianie się piśmiennictwa itd.). Malała także preferencja czasowa ludzi, co pozwalało na większe inwestycje. Ludzie pierwotni mają bardzo wysoką preferencję czasową (potrafią niszczyć rośliny dające owoce tylko po to, aby trochę szybciej je zebrać). W średniowieczu, niewykwalifikowany robotnik, który inwestowałby 10% swojego dochodu w ziemię, pod koniec życia zostałby bogatym właścicielem ziemskim, ponieważ stopy zwrotu w inwestycje były bardzo wysokie (ok. 10% rocznie) oraz inwestycje w ziemie były bardzo bezpieczne. Jednak prawie nikt tego nie robił. Wraz z obniżaniem się preferencji czasowej Europejczyków, spadały także stopy procentowe w oprocentowaniu pożyczek. W przededniu rewolucji przemysłowej stopy procentowe były już zbliżone do współczesnych.

Według mnie dane, które autor przedstawia, na pewno dają pewne przesłanki ku temu, aby przyjąć jego tezę. Jest to jednak dość kontrowersyjna teza, która wymagałaby lepszego uzasadnienia. Autor krytykuje także alternatywne koncepcje na temat rewolucji przemysłowej, takie jak teorie egzogeniczne (np. dobre instytucje które są konieczne ale niewystarczające), wyjście gospodarki ze stanu równowagi lub endogeniczność rewolucji.

Zgodnie z hipotezą autora, rewolucja przemysłowa nie była zjawiskiem tak nagłym, jak większości się zdaje. Pewne zjawiska sprzyjające rozwojowi narastały już w średniowieczu jak np. wykształcenie mas, znajomość arytmetyki albo piśmienność. Autor opowiada także trochę związanych z tym anegdotek. Na przykład ludzie pierwotni często nie umieją liczyć, i znają tylko takie słowa jak jeden albo wiele. W czasach starożytnych było już lepiej, ale i tak często ludzie wykształceni robili rażące błędy, co sprawia problemy historykom analizującym kroniki.

W drugiej części autor opisuje przebieg rewolucji przemysłowej. W jej czasie gwałtownie wzrastała liczba ludności, której dochód już nie malał a utrzymywał się na stałym poziomie. Ostatecznie za duży wzrost dochodu narodowego (nie per capita) odpowiadał radykalny wzrost liczebności ludzi. Po pewnym czasie zaczął rosnąć także dochód per capita. W czasie rewolucji duży wzrost był zauważalny w większości branż, ale najbardziej rozwinęła się branża tekstylna oraz transportowa. Obie z tych branż bardzo mocno skorzystały na rozwoju technologii. Według autora rewolucja nie zaczęła się w Azji, ponieważ w w niej zamożni ludzie rzadziej mieli dzieci. Z tego powodu rozpowszechnianie się wartości średnioklasowych zachodziło tam wolniej niż w Europie. Także szybciej rosła tam liczba ludności, co dodatkowo utrudniało rozwój.

Dzięki rewolucji przemysłowej zmniejszyły się nierówności dochodowe i majątkowe w społeczeństwie. Ziemia przestała mieć tak duże znaczenie jak w czasach wcześniejszych, więc zyski z posiadania jej się zmniejszyły. Jednocześnie wzrost produkcji przekładał się głównie na niższe ceny oraz lepsze produkty a nie na majątki kapitalistów. Wszelkie udoskonalenia procesu produkcyjnego dawały tylko krótkotrwałe zyski, ponieważ szybko były one kopiowane przez konkurentów. Więc najbardziej na rewolucji przemysłowej skorzystali najgorzej usytuowani. Kiedy różnice majątkowe w społeczeństwach zachodnich zaczęły się zmniejszać, jednocześnie różnice majątkowe między społeczeństwami zaczęły rosnąć, ponieważ zachód się bogacił a reszta świata zostawała w tyle.

Według autora na współczesny wzrost gospodarczy składa się większa wydajność pracy oraz większy kapitał per capita. W gospodarce wolnorynkowej wzrost ilości kapitału jest skorelowany ze wzrostem wydajności, ponieważ większa wydajność pozwala na wytworzenie większej ilości kapitału i vice versa. W ZSRR ilość dostępnego kapitału się zwiększała, ale idący za tym wzrost wydajności był bardzo niewielki.

W trzeciej części autor opisuje skutki rewolucji przemysłowej we współczesnym świecie. W czasach rewolucji przemysłowej panował dość swobodny przepływ ludzi i kapitału. Z tego powodu nowe wynalazki szybko trafiały do brytyjskich kolonii. Z początku cały świat się bogacił, ale po pewnym czasie zachód zaczął się bogacić szybciej. Parafrazując autora, nowe technologie można było łatwo przenieść do innych społeczeństw. Natomiast nie można było łatwo powielić środowiska społecznego, które znacznie wpływało na wydajność pracy oraz wydajność procesów produkcyjnych. Pomimo tego, że biedne kraje mają znacznie niższe koszty pracy, nie są one wstanie łatwo konkurować z państwami zachodnimi, ponieważ kultura pracy w zachodnich zakładach jest znacznie wyższa, niż w takich państwach jak na przykład Indie. Autor jako przykład porównywał wydajność zakładów tekstylnych w czasie rewolucji przemysłowej w Anglii i Indiach. Większość zakładów wykorzystywała podobne maszyny i technologie, ale zakłady w Indiach wymagały kilkukrotnie więcej pracowników aby mogły sprawnie działać. Podobna sytuacja była w kolei. Porównywał też polskich i brytyjskich robotników rolnych, z których ci pierwsi pracowali mniej wydajnie. Według autora kapitał fizyczny odpowiada za ok. ¼ różnicy dochodów między państwami, natomiast wydajność za ¾. Dodatkowo kapitał jest często lokowany w obszarach o dużej wydajności, ponieważ dzięki temu można osiągnąć większe zyski.

Autor krytykuje instytucje międzynarodowe, które działają na rzecz poprawy warunków życia w krajach trzeciego świata. Według niego takie instytucje wysyłając pomoc tym państwom jedynie prowadzą do wzrostu liczby biednych ludzi. Dobre instytucje publiczne są konieczne do zapewnienia wzrostu gospodarczego ale nie są wystarczające (w średniowieczu wiele z instytucji działało podobnie lub lepiej niż współcześnie). Dlatego też działalność takich organizacji przynosi niewiele dobrego. Autor proponował, aby zamiast tego włączać ludzi z krajów trzeciego świata do świata zachodniego przez imigrację, ponieważ wtedy tacy ludzie stają się zamożniejsi i bardziej produktywni. Według mnie nie jest to dobry pomysł, bo ludzi w biednych krajach jest znacznie więcej niż w najbardziej zamożnych krajach.

Książkę mogę zdecydowanie polecić każdemu zainteresowanemu tematem rewolucji przemysłowej. Autor stawia kontrowersyjną tezę, która według mnie wymaga dużo lepszego uzasadnienia. Jednak poza nią znajdziemy tutaj ogrom ciekawych informacji dotyczących warunków życia ludzi w dawniejszych czasach.
Profile Image for Brian Yahn.
310 reviews594 followers
May 6, 2017
For thousands of years, living conditions didn't improve. As technology got better, population density increased, raw materials became scarcer, meaning that the vast majority of people continuously spent nearly all of their time gathering food, just to keep from starving to death. This is called the Malthusian Trap.

In England, during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, things changed. Living conditions increased quickly and dramatically. This book explains the conditions that were in place which finally allowed the world to break free from the Malthusian Trap and become a better place. But it's also a warning, showing how the global elite seem dead set on eroding these conditions, potentially putting the world in a new trap, or worse -- maybe putting us on an irreversible path back to a second Stone Age.

This book feels like must read material, honestly. Everyone should be aware of the conditions that need to be in place for society to improve, because it seems like the short sighted rich will do anything to take them away for a short-lived gain.
Profile Image for Dan Relluchs.
128 reviews
December 11, 2019
I enjoyed this, interesting ideas and well presented.

I don't find the argument about the inevitability of the industrial revolution in other countries, if it did not occur England, particularly compelling. The reasons given for it occuring at all seem far too unfocused. Which is one of the reason I quite enjoy these books there's no goood compelling narrative and the author himself describes why he doesn't back various other explanations.

The book has this odd theory about genetic evolution that just seems to be utter rubbish. Shopkeepers and landed gentry are not genetically divergent in a way that materially matters. Also if they were how would that explain why other countries, relatively poorer than the west could rapidly industrialise and innovate? Instead I think evolution or adaptation is happening at the cultural / human software level and that can easily be transferred to anyone much more rapidly that requiring genetic changes.
147 reviews20 followers
November 30, 2014
Neerav rec; I found this to be a very, very troubling book.

deep thinking around "why the industrial revolution? and why 1770, not some other time?" is always interesting; we need some way to explain this

Clark's thesis is, basically, a Darwinian one - differential rates of reproduction between the rich and the poor mean that values/culture/etc get transmitted, and Clark is quick to speculate about the 'etc' - some variation on "maybe genetics" shows up countless times in the book, all speculative as far as I could tell.

if you're starting to shift around uncomfortably right now, exactly. we've been down this road before, and genetic explanations for human difference have a nasty track record of being self-serving smoke screens that justify structural inequalities in societies. the evidence base that Clark marshals is weirdly thin for such a bold thesis, and there's a downing-street-memo feel to the whole book - one gets the sense that the thesis came first, and the evidence base selected accordingly. I'll leave it to real economic historians to debate the merits of the claim, but Clark doesn't even attempt to address even simple critiques of his thesis (if culture and genetics matter most, what explains the rapid rise of poor immigrants to the US, like the Irish, for instance?)
August 2, 2017
Overall a very interesting argument as to why the industrial revolution happened in England and not other nations as well as the continued discrepancies between advanced economies and the undeveloped world. In summary, Clark argues that higher birth/survival rates for the wealthy in England caused "middle-class values" to be passed down to their offspring who experienced downward social mobility. While other countries were also on the path to their own industrial revolutions, the demographics of England caused it to happen there earlier.
Clark provides a strong argument against the thesis of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by asking why, if lucky circumstances led to England's industrial revolution, undeveloped countries weren't able to outcompete and surpass England by using their labor advantage once they had access to more advanced technology. Clark argues that developed economies use less labor and more capital to produce more advanced goods, which require a middle-class work force that makes few mistakes (with increasing costs with more complex manufacturing processes). On the contrary, less developed economies counter poor utilization of capital by employing excessive amounts of cheap labor.
Parts of this book are not well organized and at times vital assumptions are presented without as much support as would be ideal, but given its broad scope and interesting thesis this is still worth a read for anyone interested in economic history.
Profile Image for John.
35 reviews5 followers
January 21, 2008
Not as controversial as the reputation that precedes it. The link to genetic adaptation is only casually and scarcely thrown out in the prose as a possible explanation, but is discussed as mere conjecture. To sum up in a cynical short way, we are no closer to understanding a link, if there is one, between genetic adaptions and a propensity to succeed at innovation, advances and social stability than we were before Clark undertook this project. Clark spends the vast majority of the book highlighting various social/cultural trends in pre-industrial English society. He then uses these trends to hypothesize that each had an impact in the economic development of pre-industrial England unique to English culture (central is the idea that more rich to middle class people were reproducing each generation). The book argues alot and is important in the sense that it a more cross-disciplinary approach to historical data than one will encounter in economics (and i believe we should have more), but most who read it will find that rather than a strong convincing work, Clark's book is a very large list of educated guesses seeking to move the debate into the area many people are uncomfortable looking at. To put it succinctly: that certain cultures developed "BETTER" social and cultural habits than others.
Profile Image for Julian Haigh.
244 reviews15 followers
July 26, 2011
This book was certainly not the brief economic history of the world its title purports. It was however (and I must excuse myself for my elemental understanding of economics), a nice catalog of differing opinions of the reasons for numerous economic realities.

His round-about conclusion suggests the importance of sociological differences as being the basis of current global inequalities as being related to beneficial Darwinian mating habits of the English. He shies away from his conclusion, but allows the reader to develop their own. He does, however and to his great credit, acknowledge the great deficiencies in his analysis that are necessitated by a lack of sufficient data and consequent unwieldy assumptions.

An excellent book that is what it is. It is hard to think how it might have been better complete, but is nevertheless depressing as it shows how little we (or perhaps just I) know about economics.

In regards to some other views posted below: this book does not exemplify the Industrial Revolution, but emphasizes the breaking point (Clark calls it divergence) that occurred in living conditions in the 1800s, emphasizing the increasing importance of labour inputs and concomitant reduction in the importance of land/resource inputs.
Profile Image for Peter Gehred.
87 reviews17 followers
October 1, 2018
A fascinating and provocative read. The book is dogged, heavy on evidence, and conceptually challenging. I am not sure that Clark's conclusions are right, but they are certainly worth wrestling with. In particular, the outline of history into a pre and post-Malthusian era, the emphasis on the startling revolution of the Industrial Revolution, and the exploration of the cause of that revolution, and, indeed, his thesis that it has been largely mislabeled all are difficult yet worthwhile subjects. Not an easy read, or even necessarily enjoyable, but certainly intellectually stimulating.

Nota bene: My main criticism would be the absence of any consideration of the importance of European culture particularly around the Scientific Revolution. This signal transformation seems more real and more important than Clark seems to give it credit for.
Profile Image for Nick Lo.
Author 2 books1 follower
Want to read
May 26, 2013
I've not rated this as I just completely failed to get into it. Perhaps I wasn't its target reader but it was hard to determine whether it was aimed at laypersons or academics with some background in the subject. I suspect the latter being that I constantly had the feeling I'd walked into some topic part way through the curriculum. My recommendation for anyone contemplating this book is to start where I should have and view Gregory Clark - Beyond Belief 2007 on YouTube and/or read the NY Times article - In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence which other commentators recommend, before tackling the book.
Profile Image for Brian.
45 reviews4 followers
April 14, 2010
Didn't take an economics course in college. Thought this might help make me less stupid. Barely worked.

The author states that virtually all societies, stone age or "developed", operated at the same level of personal wealth (as measured by the amount of labor needed to purchase a given commodity) for centuries until the Industrial Revolution. Then he attempts to explain why only some societies subsequently experienced increasing personal wealth and standard of living. floods his arguments with loads of data, but at the end of the day I only think I know what his conclusion is, and it's not politically correct.
387 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2013
Hot garbage. An interesting thesis, but not an impressive one. Not worth the time to read. Just read the NYT review below instead and save yourself the trouble:


That is much more interesting than the book itself. I also had to chuckle at the part of the Intro where he mentions he is fortunate that economics and history professionals are so little interested in the area he works on. Hmm, I wonder why.
Profile Image for Lisa.
54 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2020
he did a looooooooot of work to 'justify' his imperialism, huh
the math modeling was good (but painfully unreadable—if i weren't in the field i'd have been so lost) but that's really. just it. just a racist white guy doing his level best to justify colonialism (he LITERALLY said it outright) for five hundred pages. if this wasn't assigned reading, i'd have dnfed it on page 10 where he first contradicted his own headass theory as "proof" of it
10 reviews
June 14, 2010
I had high hopes for this book but I couldn't get through the first chapters because of the racist portrayals. There is a lot of discussion of workers of different nationalities and ethnic groups being lazy and incapable of producing enough for themselves. It's not overtly bigoted but there is a lot of Kipling-style colonialism. Swing and a miss, Mr. Clark.
144 reviews
June 26, 2009
What is amazing about this book is that it purports to explain the industrial revolution happened, but its index has virtually nothing under "energy" and no listing at all for "petroleum". I find it perplexing that the author can largely ignore fossil fuels.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 130 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.