[ExI] Impressive book: Farewell to Alms

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Mon Feb 4 15:18:53 UTC 2008

At 10:42 PM 2/3/2008, Stewart wrote:

>--- hkhenson <hkhenson at rogers.com> wrote:
> >
> > selection pressure is released.  Rich people certainly don't have
> > twice the number of kids as poor people today.
>I don't think this is some relatively new phenomenon. Whereas it has
>been exacerbated in modern times due to birth control and the other
>things that you mention, I would argue that historical records do not
>support the notion of differential reproductive success of the rich.

Stewart, did you read the book?  Clark spent a huge effort on looking 
at the wills of people from the 1200s on.  His evidence is very 
robust on this particular point.

>Unlike Genghis Khan and Muslim shieks with harems, the rich as a class
>of preindustrial England were not known for producing a prodigious
>number of offspring.

They didn't have to.  In a Malthusian society (a more or less static 
population) it was the failure of the poor to reproduce that opened 
the "ecological space" for the offspring of the wealthy.  (By 
"reproduce" I mean to have children who reached the age they could 
reproduce.)  Assuming psychological characteristics are heritable, 
which the twin studies have shown, then do the math on how many 
generations it takes for 1% traits to become common given a two to 
one reproductive advantage for those with the traits.

>Clark seems to ignore the fact that the industrial bootstrap of England
>happened amidst the Victorian Era and the rich of the period were more
>than just random individuals who had amassed resources but a closed
>socioeconomic class of lords and ladies and the oddball merchant or
>banker. And while the occasional daliance of an earl or count with a
>maid or mistress may have given rise to an illegitimate child or two,
>it was a frowned upon exception that would have been scandalous in the
>Victorian court-- not the rule. I just don't see the early factories
>and coal mines of England being staffed by the bastard children of
>English nobility nor do I see the ladies of the Victorian court being
>kept barefoot and pregnant.

Clark's work isn't so much about the period in which the takeoff 
occurred, but the selection that went on for the centuries, changing 
psychological characteristics of the population.  He even discusses 
the low level of illegitimate children in the section on fertility.

Clark also consulted the historical record and found that the 
fighting aristocracy didn't do well in terms of reproduction until 
the level of violence had fallen to near modern levels.

At least read the first chapter.


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