[ExI] Impressive book: Farewell to Alms
hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat Feb 2 16:33:52 UTC 2008
At 03:38 AM 2/2/2008, BillK wrote:
>On Feb 2, 2008 5:02 AM, hkhenson wrote:
> > A FAREWELL TO ALMS
> > A Brief Economic History of the World
> > By Dr. Gregory Clark
> > University of California, Davis
> > This is one of those books that changed my world view, in the same
> > class as Richard Dawkins' Selfish Gene, Eric Drexler's Engines of
> > Creation, William Calvin's The Cerebral Code, Robert Wright's Moral
> > Animal, Robert Axelrod's Evolution of Cooperation and a hand full of
> > other books mostly on evolutionary psychology. It's not that it
> > replaces any of these, just fills in a big knowledge gap and is
> > highly complimentary to my work on the origin of war.
> > Economics, particularly historical economics, never made much sense
> > to me. Dr. Clark's work does and it might be
> called "evolutionary economics."
> > It makes a case for intense genetic selection leading up to the great
> > leap of the industrial revolution that allowed England and a small
> > number of other countries to escape the "Malthusian Trap." and it
> > makes a case for why this didn't come about in other parts of the
> > world and isn't likely to.
>I find myself uneasy with the sweeping conclusions in this book.
>I don't think genetics changes the population quickly enough to be the
>*sole* cause of the Industrial Revolution in the UK.
I don't think you can discount the effects of
strong selection on a population average in 24
generations. Lactose tolerance genes spread very
rapidly in cultures that raised dairy
animals. And consider how few generations it
took and how simple it was to breed tame foxes.
"Cause" in Dr. Clark's view is selection in favor
of "accumulators" (the rich) in Malthusian,
settled, stable agrarian societies. He makes his
case from records starting in the 1200s but makes
it clear that the selection started earlier and
was not confined to north western Europe, but
didn't happen everywhere either. Literacy,
numeracy, and willingness to work ridiculously
long hours by hunter-gatherer standards were
pulled along by this selection. Culture and
genes fed back on each other with the cultural
environment leading to selection for genes that
made further cultural advances possible or even inevitable.
I have made a case elsewhere that 5000 plus years
of cold winters were a factor in selecting people
who were never satisfied with how much firewood
or hay they had. Along comes an extra cold or
extra long winter and guess whose offspring
repopulated the farms of those who froze or starved?
>He is effectively
>claiming that the UK race is genetically bred to rule the world. Isn't
>that what they call 'racism'?
You make it sound like there was a breeding
program. There wasn't. Just generation after
generation of the strivers who managed to become
well off having twice as many surviving children
as the poor. Defining this as racism and
slapping the stench of "politically incorrect" on
it doesn't help us understand the underlying
reality. We need to understand reality if the human race is going to survive.
>The UK population grew slowly up to about 1800 when the IR happened.
>This was due to disease and lack of food. About 1740 four-field crop
>rotation was introduced and more food became available. Hygiene and
>medicine improved and the population increased rapidly. With the help
>of cultural and economic institutions, the first countries to get guns
>and technology became world powers. ("Guns, Germs and Steel").
Those "first countries" are almost entirely gone
from Sub Saharan Africa. The people in those
areas are still in the Malthusian trap, in fact,
in much worse shape than they were pre
contact. Why? (More than a hand waving argument please.)
And the big question is why the industrial
revolution didn't start sooner or in a different place?
>I think people should read the critics of this book before jumping on
>board. There are holes in his argument and exceptions in other
I think discussing holes and exceptions would be
of great utility. We might even get Dr. Clark to
join in if it got interesting enough.
But a warning. This discussion is going to be
politically incorrect. I found this lately which
bears directly on the problem.
The Evolutionary Psychology FAQ
Edward H. Hagen, Institute for Theoretical Biology, Berlin
Why couldn't humans have evolved during the last 10,000 years?
They could, but not much. Evolutionary
psychologists downplay the possibility of
significant cognitive evolution in the 10,000 or
so years since the advent of agriculture (a
period of time known as the Holocene) for reasons
of both science and political correctness.
Scientifically, 10,000 years (500 generations) is
not much time for natural selection to act, and
it certainly is not enough time to evolve new,
complex adaptationssophisticated mechanisms coded for by numerous genes.
It is possible, however, that humans could have
evolved minor cognitive adaptations during the
Holocene. Just as some populations whose
subsistence relied on herds of domesticated
animals evolved to digest lactose as adults,
populations could have evolved simple cognitive
adaptations that their hunter-gatherer ancestors
did not possess. For this to occur, there would
have had to have been environmental conditions
that were (1) new, (2) constant over most of the
Holocene, (3) relevant to reproduction, and (4)
required novel cognitive abilities. Many of the
changes experienced by humans over the Holocene,
however, have been so rapid that natural
selection just couldn't keep up. Further, we know
that very little has changed physiologically in
the last 10,000 yearsAustralian aborigines were
more or less isolated from other populations for
perhaps 40,000 years, yet are essentially
identical physiologically to other human
populationsso probably very little has changed psychologically.
Politically, EPs are understandably desperate to
avoid any association with past racist attempts
to essentialize population differences that are
best explained by culture. If it were possible
that human cognition had undergone significant
evolution during the Holocene, then it would be
theoretically possible to ascribe significant
differences in behavior between different
populations to genes, and that would be EPs worst nightmare.
Let's look at his list.
Settled agriculture was new--very different from
the previous hunter gatherer existence.
(2) constant over most of the Holocene,
8,000 years is 80% of the Holocene.
(3) relevant to reproduction,
A two to one advantage is certainly that.
and (4) required novel cognitive abilities.
Literacy, numeracy, low time preference and the
other traits Clark discusses are certainly novel
cognitive abilities compared to what are observed
to be the traits, particularly violence, that
gain reproductive advantage in hunter gatherer cultures.
It's not that hunter gatherer peoples don't have
these traits to some degree, it's just that the
distribution center of these traits has been
seriously shifted in some populations by
selection. As an informed guess, researchers
could sort out what genes are involved.
From the introduction:
"In this paper I argue that there is evidence that the long Malthusian
era in stable agrarian societies actually changed human
preferences, perhaps culturally but also perhaps genetically. To
show this I demonstrate first that for England the rich had a
reproductive advantage at least from 1250 onwards. I also show
that this advantage was likely inherited by their children. Finally I
show that in the same interval there are signs that preferences
were changing in the pre-industrial economy. In a time when the
rich were taking over genetically people were becoming more
middle class in their orientation: time preference rates were lower,
hours of work longer, and numeracy and literacy increasing. Thus
the long delay between the Neolithic Revolution of 6,000 BC
which established settled agriculture and the eventual Industrial
Revolution may in part be explained by the time necessary for the
formation of preference consistent with modern capitalism."
I think Dr Clark's word choices of "middle class"
and "capitalism" in this paragraph might be less
than ideal because of the excess baggage they
carry but since he is an economics professor I
can see how those terms would seem
appropriate. (And I am not sure what terms would be better.)
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