Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Downward Mobility and the Industrial Revolution

Here's a fascinating article in the NYT. It reports on a new theory for the formation of the industrial revolution by Gregory Clark, a UC Davis economist. Clark has discovered through analyzing English wills from the middle ages to about 1800 that the urban English population is comprised of descendants of the rich upper classes, whose children survived at a substantially higher rate than those of the poor. He contends that, as these survivors eventually exhausted their fortunes and fell back into a lower class life, they took the habits of the rich--hard work, deferred spending habits, non-violent conflict resolution--progressively lower and broader into society. At some point, these habits were prevalent enough to trigger the industrial revolution's productivity spurt.

Clark even goes so far as to assert that these habits may have a genetic underpinning.

The book is called a Farewell to Alms. I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot more about this.

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