Here's my new VDARE.com book review. The second part will run next Sunday night.
By Steve Sailer
An ambitious and provocative new book by
Universityof Californiaat economic historian Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, attempts to explain two huge questions: Davis
Why did one part of the human race finally break out of the "Malthusian trap"—in which growth in per capita income is washed away by subsequent population growth—namely England, at the end of the 18th Century, through rapid and sustained technological advance?
And why did the prosperity made possible by the Industrial Revolution successfully spread to some countries but not to others?
In the process,
Clarkoffers a stunning rebuke to economists:
"God clearly created the laws of the economic world in order to have a little fun at economists' expense. In other areas of inquiry, such as the physical sciences, there has been a steady accumulation of knowledge over the past four hundred years. … In economics, however, we see instead that our ability to describe and predict the economic world reached a peak around 1800. In the years since the Industrial Revolution there has been a progressive and continuing disengagement of economic models from any ability to predict differences of income and wealth across time and across countries and regions."
The pioneering economic works of Smith and Thomas Malthus (1798) accurately described the world before the Industrial Revolution that was just getting underway then with the employment of the steam engine in cotton mills. By 1817, when David Ricardo was pessimistically propounding what later came to be known as "the Iron Law of Wages,"
was moving in a new, liberating direction unexpected by economists. England
Clark's book idiosyncratically combines the strengths and weaknesses of both economists and historians.
Although economists were long the butt of angry jokes, the improvement of the economy after the early 1980s has raised their prestige and self-confidence. As shown by the three million copies sold of Steven Levitt's Freakonomics, economists are the hot academics of the moment, the glamour professors, just as cultural anthropologists were back in Margaret Mead's heyday in the 1950s.
The strong point of economists is that they believe in "theory" in the same sense that hard scientists do—as a tool for simplifying our understanding of reality and for making more accurate predictions. (In contrast, professors of English literature use the word "theory" to mean the hateful mumbo-jumbo that they wield as a barrier to entry to their otherwise appealing profession—a barricade of bad writing that repels many of the huge number of people who love good writing and would otherwise want to be English professors.)