[ExI] Impressive book: Farewell to Alms

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Mon Feb 4 16:54:44 UTC 2008

At 03:00 AM 2/4/2008, Billk wrote:
>On Feb 4, 2008 5:42 AM, The Avantguardian wrote:


>Clark analysed the data from old wills to reach his conclusion.
>The problem with this is that in olden times *everybody* had big
>families, because they lacked reliable birth control and knew that
>half the children would probably die from disease or malnourishment.
>The Catholic Church also ordered them to reproduce. Remember the song
>'Every sperm is sacred' from the film 'The Meaning of Life'.
>But the great majority of the poor were illiterate and had no
>possessions to leave in a will and they vastly outnumber the will data
>that Clark analysed.

Clark was keenly aware of the potential for bias in his data and did 
his best to verify that it was representative.  He comments that 
wills became common fairly early, reached way down the social ladder 
and that many of the will makers were illiterate, signing their wills 
with an x.  His conclusion is robust because you can see in the will 
data a strong link between the number of *surviving* children and the 
economic class determined by the assets described in the 
wills.  There is also a link between literacy and assets in these wills.

>Besides, as someone else pointed out, if the poor were breeding
>furiously with a very high death rate, doesn't that mean that the
>selection pressure was being applied with horrendous efficiency to the

To a very close approximation the population was constant.  If you 
show that the rich as a group were more than replacing themselves, 
and constrain the total population to a constant, then it's a 
mathematical certainty that the poor were not replacing themselves.

If you can see a flaw in this reasoning, please point it out.


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