Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Darwinian Account of England's Industrial Revolution

Gregory Clark has written a brief article summarizing the argument of his new book Farewell to Arms: A Brief Economic History of the World.

The general idea is stated in the third paragraph: "The Industrial Revolution is . . . plausibly linked to a Darwinian process of 'survival of the richest' that opeated from at least 1250. Capitalist attitudes and economic growth triumphed in England becasue those with such attitudes came to predominate in the population by biological means. The modern English are the descendents of the upper classes of the preindustrial world, those who prospered economically. The poor disappeared. The process was most likely cultural, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the English may even be genetically capitalist."

Since I don't yet have my copy of the book, I can't judge the persuasiveness of Clark's evidence and arguments based just on this article and some of the other press coverage of the book. But in principle at least, Clark's reasoning would fit into what I have called "Darwinian political science"--as in my immediately preceding post. Capitalist attitudes could have been shaped by a process of cultural evolution.

Whether this could also be genetic is, as Clark indicates, more controversial and dubious, because it's not clear that 800 years would be enough time for genetic evolution. Apparently, Clark appeals to some of the research on gene-culture coevolution--particularly, the classic case of the evolution of lactose-tolerance among people in dairying societies--as possibly applying to this case. But I will need to study the book before I can decide how plausible this is.


Memetic Warrior said...

This explanation does not make sense. The people more benefitted by the industrial revolution, in biological terms, where the low level people with no capitalistic mentality. Before the industrial revolution, the peasants did not have food enoug to have children. Mortality at early age where worsth than in the poorest countries now. The soaring in absolute population where not due to the grownt of capitalist families but proletarians, that had no capitalistic mentality whatsoever.

It any explanation can be extracted from the darwinian point of view in genetic terms, is the opposite; the favoring of socialist genes, that the english people has now. (just a joke)

When evolutionary explantions become popular, then naive darwinian explanations that favour moral prejuices becomes more common. Every one think that he understand Darwininm and can explain everything trough it. This tendency ultimately degradated the appreciation of darwinism applied to the social sciences at the Herbert Spencer time. Now this danger appears again.

Kent Guida said...

Larry Arnhart has accurately presented the argument of Farewell to Alms.
To expand just a bit, Clark's evidence shows that before the industrial revolution the upper classes produced more offspring than the lower -- consistently and over a long period of time. One consequence, supported by lots of data, was that the upper classes experienced significant downward mobility from generation to generation. Over time, the upper classes repopulated the lower strata with their offspring, while the descendants of the lower classes were fewer and fewer.
You have to read the book to appreciate the weight of the evidence. This is not some political tract, it's a major work of economic history, worthy of being taken seriously.
I think it may also be an indication of the potential of the approach to political science that Arnhart is suggesting in "Darwinian Political Science."

Memetic Warrior said...

If this study is right, then in a few generations, the english population will be invaded by a gen that forces to go to a mosque to pray.