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Saturday, August 15, 2009

WHAT CAUSED THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, AND WHY DID ENGLAND PIONEER IT?

Today's Buggy Topic

The subject-title here mirrors the lengthy buggy commentary with full fidelity . . . the bugged-out stuff inspired by a linked post at Economist View, the admirable web-site, that featured an article in the Washington Post by Professor Gregory Clark.  A gifted economic historian at UC Davis, Clark published a book in 2007 --- its title, A Farewell to Alms --- that unfolded a tightly argued, radically innovative account of the industrial revolution and its causes in England in the late 18th century.

How the Book Relates to the Article

Clark's Washington Post article did not explicitly refer to his book, but you can't understand his argument there without knowing well his historical account of the industrial revolution, and especially its key explanatory causal model:  in a word, only by mid-18th century were there enough "modern men" in England with a thorough-going middle-class mentality ---  educated, thrifty, and hard-working people with cumulative family capital and an entrepreneurial spirit: most of them addicts of self-improvement, and keen and ready to increase their income, wealth, and social status by business, financial, or technological innovation in industry and agriculture --- who could exploit the various institutional advantages and incentive-system that had existed in England for centuries.

This focus on the rise of a modern-man mentality as the key variable behind the industrial revolution isn't itself radically new.  A century ago, the great German sociologist, Max Weber, set out such a cultural explanation in his renown work, The Protestant Ethos.

Clark's argument, though, is even more radical than Weber's . . . the latter's cultural thesis downplayed for decades anyway in almost all economic history.   Clark's explanation is both cultural and biological . . . the interaction based on social biology or, its up-to-date variant, evolutionary psychology.  And his evidence --- which shows how, in a Malthusian world, the rich and well-to-do classes in England began in the 15th century to leave far more surviving sons and daughters than the less affluent classes --- is strikingly new and persuasive.  

Click here  for the buggy post.  Be sure to read the Clark article at the top of the thread, and then --- if you want --- click on the "previous page" button after you've looked at prof bug's comments if you want to see what the other 100 posters had to say about it.