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How the sinking rich brought prosperity

August 8, 2007

According to economic historian Gregory Clark, the industrial revolution occurred because people developed “the middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save…” And this happened because the poor lived in such wretched conditions that the rich out-reproduced them.  Not enough of the working class children survived to do the work, so  many children of the rich, carrying these “middle-class” values, ended up in the working class.  They carried the values with them: “Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving.” This made the industrial revolution possible.

That’s my summary of Nicholas Wade’s review in yesterday’s New York Times of Clark’s forthcoming “A Farewell to Alms” (to be published by Princeton University Press).  Apparently it’s based on a huge amount of detailed research.

It seems to contradict Georgist theory in a couple of ways.  First, Clark assumes that to some extent values are genetic, whereas George emphasized that people are pretty much identical everywhere, with social institutions explaining the main differences.  Second, it implies that the formula for prosperity is to let the children of the poor die, and make the rich kids work.  Well, maybe making the rich kids work wouldn’t be so bad.

Thanks to NewsTrust for bringing this to my attention.

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