Gregory Clark’s Farewell to Alms: on LNL tonight

Gregory Clark

I went to a fascinating talk by Gregory Clark last night at the Melbourne Business School.  As I often do – and as I often do wrongly – I had taken his book to be one of those best seller books which announce a few new interesting ideas that have been explored in an article of Atlantic Monthly or Foreign Affairs and then turned into a book.  Usually there’s not a lot of point in reading the expansion of the article, the article will do just fine.

Anyway, I was dead wrong.  As I listened it became obvious that Clark’s ideas are the result of a long period of research and pondering.

(Reminds me of the time I went and took a cabinet minister through some ideas of mine (pdf) that I thought were quite compelling. He said “This is fantastic Nick – really fascinating.  I think you should come back every month or so and take me through some similar new idea.”  The pity was it had taken me seven years to get where I’d got – though if you read the paper you’ll think it’s all pretty low key – and obvious which it is.  Anyway it didn’t matter as the minister ignored the ideas in his very next speech.)

Anyway, Clark’s book was 20 years in the researching and many years in the writing.  And it’s very interesting. I’m just coming down from a ‘high’ about them – and after a period of euphoria, now think there are some important weaknesses. But I’m a bit flat out to go through them here. In any event, they’re a fascinating cascade of ideas that certainly make you think about things in a new way – or did me.

In the meantime you might like to check out some reviews of his book on his website. I’ve not been through many of them but I did read this review which was a typical Classical Liberal review (pdf) – which is to say it is by a person who compares what Clark says with what he already knows the answers are.  I’m always surprised when a fairly prominent American think tank turns out such dreck – but there you are.  I’m sure there are good reviews. Clark has certainly been taken seriously by some fairly serious folks as you can see.

So why am I writing this hastily written and accordingly somewhat scatterbrained post? Because Clark is on LNL tonight and he will be well worth listening to – unless Philip Adams takes it upon himself to insist on and make a joke out of how little he knows or likes economics.  I don’t have a problem with him not knowing or liking economics, but it sometimes gets in the way of what otherwise are often good interviews. Anyway, check it out if you can.

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derrida derider
derrida derider
13 years ago

I’ll listen. Adams might be an ass, but he is also a fine interviewer who lets people speak for themselves.

Sinclair Davidson
13 years ago

Wolfgang Kasper’s review is here. My review is not yet on the web but is in the latest IPA Review.

Niall
13 years ago

Quite enjoy Phillip Adams, and I don’t really enjoy or get enthused about economics either. Bit like alchemy to my mind.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
13 years ago

Farewell to Alms remains on my very large to-read pile of books, but I heard Clark speak over the weekend and he is as Nick suggests good value.

observa
observa
13 years ago

“WHY did the Industrial Revolution begin in the 18th century? Why did it start in Britain, a medium-sized island in north-west Europe? And, once the revolution had occurred, why did the gains accrue so disproportionately to countries in Europe and North America?

These are questions that have kept economists busy for decades. Gregory Clark, of the University of California, Davis, thinks the answers lie in the nature of European societies. Millennia of living in stable societies, under tight Malthusian pressures that rewarded effort, accumulation and fertility limitation, encouraged the development of cultural formsin terms of work inputs, time preference and family formationwhich facilitated modern economic growth, he contends.

This is not a fashionable thesis. Indeed, it may well get Mr Clark into trouble, given the implication that other societies are less evolved.’

‘Not a fashionable thesis’ might be putting it somewhat euphemistically old chap.

timboy
13 years ago

Wow, reading one of his articles he seems to be implying that Aboriginal Australians may be genetically incapable of succeeding in a western industrialised society.

That sort of thinking would get you kicked out of most Australian Universities.

tres controversial.

Would love to see him and Noel Pearson in a room together ;D

Talk about an intellectual cage fight.

timboy
13 years ago

Here’s the article for those interested:

timboy
13 years ago

argh, that didn’t work to well.

hey presto

Ingolf
13 years ago

Don’t know, Nicholas. I certainly wasn’t bowled over by him on LNL; if anything he struck me as a touch flaky. Anyway, FWIW, here are two of those reviews that express considerable reservations about both his thesis and scholarship:

Ken Pomeranz, American Historical Review, June 2008

Laura Betzig, Evolutionary Psychology, Oct 14, 2007

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
13 years ago

“Would love to see him and Noel Pearson in a room together ;D”

There were in a room together last weekend, with no conflict that I observed.