A Farewell to Alms

A Farewell to Alms : A Brief Economic History of the World

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Why are some parts of the world so rich and others so poor? Why did the Industrial Revolution--and the unprecedented economic growth that came with it--occur in eighteenth-century England, and not at some other time, or in some other place? Why didn't industrialization make the whole world rich--and why did it make large parts of the world even poorer? In A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark tackles these profound questions and suggests a new and provocative way in which culture--not exploitation, geography, or resources--explains the wealth, and the poverty, of nations. Countering the prevailing theory that the Industrial Revolution was sparked by the sudden development of stable political, legal, and economic institutions in seventeenth-century Europe, Clark shows that such institutions existed long before industrialization. He argues instead that these institutions gradually led to deep cultural changes by encouraging people to abandon hunter-gatherer instincts-violence, impatience, and economy of effort-and adopt economic habits-hard work, rationality, and education.
The problem, Clark says, is that only societies that have long histories of settlement and security seem to develop the cultural characteristics and effective workforces that enable economic growth. For the many societies that have not enjoyed long periods of stability, industrialization has not been a blessing. Clark also dissects the notion, championed by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, that natural endowments such as geography account for differences in the wealth of nations. A brilliant and sobering challenge to the idea that poor societies can be economically developed through outside intervention, A Farewell to Alms may change the way global economic history is understood.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 432 pages
  • 152 x 235 x 33.02mm | 539g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • 25 halftones. 78 line illus. 65 tables.
  • 0691141282
  • 9780691141282
  • 102,380

Back cover copy

"What caused the Industrial Revolution? Gregory Clark has a brilliant and fascinating explanation for this event which permanently changed the life of humankind after 100,000 years of stagnation."--George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics and Koshland Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley

"This is a very important book. Gregory Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution was the gradual but inevitable result of a kind of natural selection during the harsh struggle for existence in the pre-industrial era, in which economically successful families were also more reproductively successful. They transmitted to their descendants, culturally and perhaps genetically, such productive attitudes as foresight, thrift, and devotion to hard work. This audacious thesis, which dismisses rival explanations in terms of prior ideological, technological, or institutional revolutions, will be debated by historians for many years to come."--Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

"Challenging the prevailing wisdom that institutions explain why some societies become rich, Gregory Clark's "A Farewell to Alms" will appeal to a broad audience. I can think of nothing else like it."--Philip T. Hoffman, author of Growth in a Traditional Society

"You may not always agree with Gregory Clark, but he will capture your attention, make you think, and make you reconsider. He is a provocative and imaginative scholar and a true original. As an economic historian, he engages with economists in general; as an economist, he is parsimonious with high-tech algebra and unnecessarily complex models. Occam would approve."--Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce

"This should rapidly become a standard work on the history of economic development. It should start whole industries trying to test, refine, and refute its explanations. And Gregory Clark's views on the economic merits of imperialism and the fact that labor gained the most from industrialization will infuriate all the right people."--Eric L. Jones, author of Cultures Merging and The European Miracle

"While many books on the Industrial Revolution tend to focus narrowly either on the event itself, or on one explanation for it, Gregory Clark does neither. He takes an extremely long-run view, covering significant periods before and after the Industrial Revolution, without getting bogged down in long or detailed exposition. This is an extremely important contribution to the subject."--Clifford Bekar, Lewis and Clark College
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Table of contents

Preface ix Acknowledgments xi Chapter 1: Introduction: The Sixteen-Page Economic History of the World 1 PART I: The Malthusian Trap: Economic Life to 1800 Chapter 2: The Logic of the Malthusian Economy 19 Chapter 3: Living Standards 40 Chapter 4: Fertility 71 Chapter 5: Life Expectancy 91 Chapter 6: Malthus and Darwin: Survival of the Richest 112 Chapter 7: Technological Advance 133 Chapter 8: Institutions and Growth 145 Chapter 9: The Emergence of Modern Man 166 PART II: The Industrial Revolution Chapter 10: Modern Growth: The Wealth of Nations 193 Chapter 11: The Puzzle of the Industrial Revolution 208 Chapter 12: The Industrial Revolution in England 230 Chapter 13: Why England? Why Not China, India, or Japan? 259 Chapter 14: Social Consequences 272 PART III: The Great Divergence Chapter 15: World Growth since 1800 303 Chapter 16: The Proximate Sources of Divergence 328 Chapter 17: Why Isn't the Whole World Developed? 352 Chapter 18: Conclusion: Strange New World 371 Technical Appendix 379 References 383 Index 409 Figure Credits 419
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Review Text

Clark argues that it is culture, not exploitation, geography or resources, that determines the wealth and poverty of nations, and challenges the positive notions of industrialisation. 'Any book that is as bold, as fascinating, as conscientiously argue ...
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Review quote

Winner of the 2008 Gold Book Medal in Finance/Investment/Economics, Independent Publisher Book Awards "Right or wrong, or perhaps somewhere in between, Clark's is about as stimulating an account of world economic history as one is likely to find. Let's hope that the human traits to which he attributes economic progress are acquired, not genetic, and that the countries that grow in population over the next 50 years turn out to be good at imparting them. Alternatively, we can simply hope he's wrong."--Benjamin M. Friedman, New York Times Book Review "Clark's idea-rich book may just prove to be the next blockbuster in economics. He offers us a daring story of the economic foundations of good institutions and the climb out of recurring poverty. We may not have cracked the mystery of human progress, but A Farewell to Alms brings us closer than before."--Tyler Cowen, New York Times "[C]lark is very good at piecing together figures from here and there, including those from isolated groups of hunter-gatherers alive today. He makes a plausible case for the basic pattern: for thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution, there was essentially no sustained improvement in mankind's general material standard of living, nor was there much variation from place to place around the world. The Industrial Revolution made all the difference."--Robert Solow, New York Review of Books "A Farewell to Alms asks the right questions, and it is full of fascinating details, like the speed at which information traveled over two millennia (prior to the 19th century, about one mile per hour). Clark's combination of passion and erudition makes his account engaging. When a light bulb goes off in my head, the first thing I ask myself is 'Would this be interest if it were true?' Clark's thesis definitely meets that test."--Samuel Bowles, Science "Mr. Clark...has produced a well written and thought-provoking thesis, refreshingly light on jargon and equations. It could well be the subject of debate for years to come."--The Economist "Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms is fully as absorbing, as memorable and as well written as [Jared] Diamond's remarkable bestseller. It deserves to be as widely read... [A]ny book that is as bold, as fascinating, as conscientiously argued and as politically incorrect as this one demands to be read."--Clive Crook, Financial Times "Obviously, we've got a controversial argument here. But Clark makes a compelling case for the idea that the fruits of industrialization were open to all societies, but only a handful seized the moment."--William R. Wineke, The Wisconsin State Journal "Gregory Clark's new book A Farewell to Alms is an investigation of both our nasty, brutish, and short past and our more prosperous present. Mr. Clark first makes the case that we owe our current prosperity to the gifts of the Industrial Revolution. He then attempts to explain why that revolution happened in 18th-century England."--Edward Glaeser, New York Sun "Economic history often conjures images of musty tomes, bygone eras that no one knows about and in general, scholarship that is dry and difficult to relate to. Gregory Clark's new book A Farewell to Alms conveys a different image. Offering a sweep of history from the border between antiquity and the medieval age, the book is an attempt at tackling grand themes."--Siddharth Singh, LiveMint "For a novel and somewhat dispiriting theory of economic divergence, read A Farewell to Alms, published this year, by Gregory Clark of the University of California at Davis. He doesn't accept the view, common among the utopians, that natural endowments like soil and water explain why rich nations are 50 times as prosperous as poor ones. How can differences in natural resources possibly explain Zimbabwe's misery or Singapore's wealth? Clark amasses an extraordinary collection of historical data to explain why the Industrial Revolution was born in western Europe, not Africa or India."--William Baldwin, Forbes "Clark's ferociously systematic expounding of an alternative to the institutional explanation does...provide many delightful insights, large and small, along the way. Some of the observations in this very well-written book do make for nice dinner party anecdotes."--Harold James, The American Interest "Comes now Gregory Clark, an economist who interestingly takes the side of culture. In an important new book, A Farewell to Alms Clark suggests that much of the world's remaining poverty is semi-permanent. Modern technology and management are widely available, but many societies can't take advantage because their values and social organization are antagonistic. Prescribing economically sensible policies (open markets, secure property rights, sound money) can't overcome this bedrock resistance."--Robert Samuelson, The Washington Post "A Farewell to Alms is a brave new work, rich in both detailed facts and big ideas. Clark clears away much of the tangled brush of theories of long-term economic growth that have grown up in recent decades. This is the most ambitious and far-reaching book on long-term economic history to appear in many years, perhaps since Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel."--Jack A. Goldstone, World Economics "Clark's book A Farewell to Alms is ... Ambitious, staking out an entire vision of world history... Clark's Malthusian model is forcefully argued."--Roger Gathman, Austin American-Statesman "[T]he author's engaging style and (relatively) jargon-free descriptions of the economic principles in play before, during, and after the Industrial Revolution in England turn this rich and detailed account into more of a sprint than a slog... Whatever your reaction to this decidedly un-PC take on economic aid, [A Farewell to Alms] serves as a useful explanation of how we got where we are today and a reminder that new approaches are needed to close the yawning gap between the world's richest and poorest societies."--Roberta Fusaro, Harvard Business Review "Clark argues the English evolved biologically in ways that created prosperity. Before you dismiss the notion, read this brilliant tour of economic history."--MoneySense Magazine "Clark adds substantively to an understanding of perhaps the important questions of this--or any--era: what makes economies grow, and why have some not experienced any success at all?...Alms is provocative, authoritative, insightful, readable, well documented, and an inescapable detour for anyone wanting to tackle economic growth and development topics and enter into these conversations."--A. R. Sanderson, Choice "Gregory Clark has written a fascinating book which is chock-full of insight and ideas. Clark paints on a big canvas and his deft handling of the puzzles and counterintuitive outcomes is delicious. 'No one,' he says, 'can claim to be truly intellectually alive without having understood and wrestled, at least a little, with these mysteries'. We are indebted to him for revealing more of them in such an electrifying fashion."--Ian R. Harper, The Melbourne Review "[A Farewell to Alms] is one of the most fascinating, and the most disturbing, historical works I have read. It seems to suggest that the gross inequality of our world has less to do with the inherent unfairness of global capitalism and more with scarcely ineradicable cultural difference... [T]his is economic history as you never read it before."--A.N. Wilson, The Daily Telegraph "Why do some nations get rich while others stay poor? What are the conditions that allow an economy to take off and grow? These questions have puzzled economists for many years. But no explanation is more startling than the one proposed by Gregory Clark in his book A Farewell to Alms."--Ross Gittins, Sydney Morning Herald "This is a fine book, bristling with interesting data and opinions, more extensive than this review can possibly convey. Readily accessible to non-fiction readers, this book should fire more debate about a historical episode of unfailing fascination."--Michael G. Sargent, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews "This is ... a remarkable book, with an unerring focus on the fundamentals of the Malthusian economy and the large-scale economic trends. It is a unique source of factual information, beautifully presented in almost 200 tables and figures, and will make an excellent textbook for college-level courses of history and economics."--Gerhard Meisenberg, Journal of Biosocial Science "[P]erhaps there is no higher praise for an author than to say that I disagreed with the arguments but liked the book. It made me think in new ways about the course of economic history. I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the economic history of the world."--Rick Szostak, New Global Studies "I derived enormous stimulation from this book. At a superficial level, Clark offers a richly documented picture of England's economic history, put into perspective by comparisons with other parts of Europe and with the Far East, and sometimes even by references to amazing facts about ancient forager societies... More fundamentally, the layman gets a good understanding here of what made for the Industrial Revolution and how its preconditions evolved in England over a period of centuries. Clark accuses economists of being undereducated about history. This will be somewhat remedied if they read his provocative book."--Wolfgang Kasper, Policy "As a self-proclaimed exercise in 'big history' this work succeeds extraordinarily well: it is engaging and readable, and it renders abstruse economic models and empirical results accessible to nonspecialists."--Zorina Khan, Technology and Culture "A Farewell to Alms is ... worth scrutinizing. The book offers a distinct line of thought on evolutionary affairs. It is also valuable in historiographical terms as it recalls historical explanation forsaken due to shifting scholarly fashions."--Ian Morley, The History Teacher "Gregory Clark has written a stimulating, provocative, witty, and ambitious book. It is accessible to the uninitiated and a pleasure to read. Clark's valuable insights are presented with an admirable forcefulness, as are his grievous errors. In short, this is a book very much worth reading for the sake of argument and debate."--Jan De Vries, Journal of Economic History "Clark has provided a sensible and readable account of important frontier research in economic history."--Peter Howitt, Journal of Interdisciplinary History "Gregory Clark has given us a very provocative work. It is economic history, but with strong implications for contemporary problems. His quantitative techniques for demonstrating such phenomena as the innumeracy of pre-industrial humanity and the evolution of the speed of information flows are clever."--Arnold Kling, Journal of Bioeconomics
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About Gregory Clark

Gregory Clark is chair of the economics department at the University of California, Davis. He has written widely about economic history.
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898 ratings
3.7 out of 5 stars
5 24% (215)
4 38% (337)
3 27% (239)
2 8% (76)
1 3% (31)
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