Munich Personal RePEc Archive

The Inheritance of Gregory Clark

McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen (2009): The Inheritance of Gregory Clark.

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Abstract

An extreme materialist hypothesis explaining the Industrial Revolution would be simply genetic. Gregory Clark asserts such a theory of sociobiological inheritance in his Farewell to Alms (2007). Rich people proliferated in England, Clark argues, and by a social Darwinian struggle the poor and incompetent died out, leaving a master race of Englishmen with the bourgeois values to conquer the world. Clark will have no truck with ideas as causes, adopting a materialist (and as he believes is implied by materialism a quantitative) theory of truth. His method, that is, follows Marx in historical materialism, as many scholars did 1890 to 1980. But he does not follow through on his promise to show his argument quantitatively. The argument fails, on many grounds. For one thing, non-English people succeeded, as for instance the Chinese now are succeeding. And such people have always done fine in a bourgeois country. For another, Clark does not show that his inheritance mechanism has the quantitative oomph to change people generally into bourgeois, nor does he show that bourgeois habits of working hard mattered, or that bourgeois values caused innovation. What made for success in 1500 is not obviously the same as what made for innovation in 1800. And in the modern world of literacy such values are not transmitted down families, but across families. Literal inheritance anyway dissipates in reversion to the mean. What mattered in modern economic growth was not a doubtfully measured change in the inherited abilities of English people. What mattered was a radical change 1600-1776, “measurable” in every play and pamphlet, in what English people wanted, paid for, revalued.

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