2014 February 27 Thursday
Gregory Clark's The Son Also Rises And Economic Doctrines

In Gregory Clark's excellent new book The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) the following line leaps out:

The idea of tradeoff between quantity and quality of family life is one of the sacred doctrines of neoclassical economics, one that lies at the heart of attempts to explain the long-delayed arrival of modern economic growth.

What is wrong with neoclassical economics? It has sacred doctrines.

What is incredibly refreshing about Gregory Clark's books: They are so incredibly empirical and undoctrinal. Reading him makes reading even the best economics blogs dissatisfying because he reminds me of just how many bad assumptions underlie modern economic thinking.

What is the real reason it took so long before the Industrial Revolution started? First, the conditions needed for natural selection for much higher IQ levels had to come into existence. Next hundreds of years had to transpire during which selection process selected for higher IQ and other attributes needed for an industrial society to develop. Eventually people sufficiently smart were born and grew up to invent the steam engine and then to improve its efficiency. Then those smarties and other smarties could keep refining the technologies inventing new gadgets to enable an escape from the Malthusian Trap.

This latest book by Clark demonstrates that status is far more persistent across generations than conventional measures of economic mobility have led economists to believe. Clark's previous book, A Farewell To Alms, demonstrated that in England for centuries the higher status middle and upper middle classes left more progeny than the poorer lower classes. That caused selection for higher IQ, higher social competency, longer time horizons, and lower impulsiveness.

In the 20th and 21st centuries the selective pressures have been running in the opposite direction and industrialized societies are suffering from declining smart fractions. Until liberals throw off their tabula rasa faith we have no chance of reversing the decline.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 February 27 05:55 PM 

YIH said at February 28, 2014 1:29 AM:

OT but worth passing along:
Ann Coulter sees the connection between immigration and falling real wages, but she fails to see the obvious Republican strategy:
No, in response to the Democrats' minimum wage proposal, Republicans should introduce a bill that ends both legal and illegal immigration AND raises the minimum wage to $14 per hour. This will eliminate the incentive to businesses and families to continue importing cheap labor from south of the border. What is the point of hiring an illegal if you've got to pay him the same as you'd pay an American?

Frink said at March 1, 2014 4:29 AM:

If only low IQ or ineffective individuals could be identified and then paid to be sterilized. By itself their condition is not a big obstacle on the dating market.

Matthew Hammer said at March 1, 2014 10:29 AM:

Then again, the process of IQ selection also appears to have occurred in Eastern Asia, potentially for even longer, yet an industrial revolution did not occur there. So there must be something more to the phenomenon.

Matthew Hammer said at March 1, 2014 10:35 AM:

Yet the same process of IQ selection also occurred at the other end of Asia, potentially for an even longer period given the results, but did not result in an independent industrial revolution.
Which indicates that there is something missing from that explanation.

Aaron said at March 1, 2014 7:20 PM:

The ancient Greeks had a blueprint for the steam engine. The IR came about through a series of accidents and serendipity. It wasn't invented by smart people, but smart people had to be around to take advantage of it. Most inventions came about through an astonishing series of accidents. The history of technology is very different than what people assume. Clark sounds like he is substituting his own assumptions.

Aaron said at March 1, 2014 7:22 PM:

The ancient Greeks had a blueprint for the steam engine. The IR came about through a series of accidents and serendipity. It wasn't invented by smart people, but smart people had to be around to take advantage of it. Most inventions came about through an astonishing series of accidents. The history of technology is very different than what people assume. Clark sounds like he is substituting his own assumptions.

James Bowery said at March 1, 2014 8:31 PM:

The mother of invention: Necessity.

Labor was leaving Great Britain for the New World.

OK, I haven't read "Farewell to Alms" but its pretty clear that its a pain killer for the white elites who are killing off the middle class right now in their intraethnic class warfare that has resulted in The Two Income Trap and "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class" after they totally screwed the pooch on technological civilization's potential represented by the Baby Boomers. Everyone knows that by now, we should have expanded to new frontiers in the ocean and space. Instead played zero sum games with arbitrage. Of course if you didn't play zero sum games and tried to make a place for the Nation of Settlers to escape, "you're just a loser" so you should be culled from the gene pool to make way for the high IQ honkies.

James Bowery said at March 2, 2014 10:17 AM:

From the NY Times review of "Farewell To Alms":

In the rest of Europe and East Asia, populations had also long been shaped by the Malthusian trap of their stable agrarian economies. Their workforces easily absorbed the new production technologies that appeared first in England.

It is puzzling that the Industrial Revolution did not occur first in the much larger populations of China or Japan.

Ya think?

Dr. Clark has found data showing that their richer classes, the Samurai in Japan and the Qing dynasty in China, were surprisingly unfertile and so would have failed to generate the downward social mobility that spread production-oriented values in England.

Oh good grief. This is the statistical foundation for his thesis?

Even if it is true that the intense polygyny of imperial China didn't have an evolutionary effect on the Chinese character, there are a large number of other stratified societies that had been in existence ever since the dawn of the neolithic. We're talking a huge number of agrarian societies that, over many millenia had the same nutritional deficits relative to hunter gatherers that supposedly was the "unique" selection regime of Great Britain.

As has already been pointed out, even the Greeks had a blueprint for a steam engine. Why didn't their upper classes invest?

No, what was unique about this era that resulted in the Industrial Revolution, was a confluence of 2 factors:

1) What WD Hamilton calls the 800-year delay from invasion of barbarian pastoralists till renaissance "to bring the old mercantile thoughtfulness and the infused daring into conjunction in a few individuals who then find courage for all kinds of inventive innovation against the resistance of established thought and practice", and

2) The unique-in-history event of a new hemisphere of land that was open to the labor of Great Britain so as to further weaken the forces of economic rent seeking that operate as capital welfare, and substituting de facto slave labor for technology, and render investment capital risk averse. This helps explain why the upper classes of Greece didn't develop steam power: Their slaves had no where to escape.

Aaron said at March 2, 2014 3:22 PM:

It's important to realize that technology is rarely "invented" through a deliberate process. Most important technological breakthroughs occurred through tinkering and accidental discoveries. The series of accidents that led to the discovery of antibiotics is truly astonishing and an excellent example of the spooky randomness of the universe. Many "inventions" were actually discovered when researchers were working on a completely different problem - Viagra was supposed to be heart medication. The automobile and the computer also came about through similar random processes.

This isn't to say intelligence doesn't play a role. Once you stumble upon something important, you have to have the wit to recognize it and exploit it. But clearly, directed intelligence plays a far smaller role in the invention of technology than people commonly suppose.

The Industrial Revolution will always contain an element of irreducible mystery. Smart people existed in Japan and China, with all the good middle class qualities of the English of the 18th century.

What made it more likely to happen in Europe is perhaps the fact that northern European culture had developed a strong tradition of empirical tinkering with figures like Francis Bacon providing a strong impetus for the focus on empirical investigation. But having a tradition of tinkering still didn't guarantee that a series of accidental events would come together in just that way at precisely that historical moment to create the Industrial Revolution, and that people would be on hand to appreciate the ways it could be exploited, and that social conditions would favor, or at least permit, the introduction of new technology of this kind.

Smart people were a necessary but extremely far from sufficient condition, and focusing on that as anything other than an obvious but trivial point sheds little light on the phenomenon.

bbartlog said at March 4, 2014 6:30 AM:

It isn't entirely clear that the smart fraction has been declining. Theory suggests it should - indeed, theory suggests it should have been declining for the past two hundred years or so! But instead we have the Flynn effect.

It's worth keeping in mind that there are some positive aspects to the modern world when it comes to selection. For example, because the environment is less randomly damaging (disease and malnutrition are effectively gone), people's apparent fitness is a much better signal of their actual genetic fitness. This allows what selection remains to operate more efficiently.

Similarly, giving women more freedom to choose their partners (at least in the Western world) also allows for increased selection. To the extent that this operates on traits we don't like or don't care about it, it may not help, but if pleiotropy is strong, then selection for 'general fitness' or low genetic load would also tend to select for some degree of intelligence.

James Bowery said at March 4, 2014 9:13 AM:

The Flynn Effect is environmental and it has been tapped out. The genetic basis for intelligence has been decreasing and the environmental compensations are no longer masking it via the so-called "Flynn Effect". Keep up to date on the research.

John Salmond said at March 24, 2014 6:11 PM:

if only we could have identified those with high "IQ" (whatever is meant by that illusory and delusory term) and paid them not to have children, before they put the world on the path to unrestrained greed-gratification that has doomed us to the coming climate change catastrophe

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