A Farewell To Alms Part II: Why Have Some Countries Profited From The Industrial Revolution?


[See also last week`s

A Farewell To Alms: Why Did The Industrial Revolution
Happen Where It Did?

In A Farewell to Alms, economic historian Gregory Clark asks:
Why has the Industrial Revolution of the last two
centuries caused a Great Divergence, making

some nations so rich,

others have stayed so poor.

This is a social
scientist`s question, not a historian`s, because there
are enough separate countries in the world that general
patterns can be perceived that can be reasonably well
explained by a limited number of factors.

There are a lot of data
to work with, folks.

A quick survey of the
globe shows, for example, that countries tend to be
poorer when they are

ruled by crazed ideologies

North Korea vs. South Korea
) or are far inland



But another factor is so
obvious that we aren`t supposed to mention it.

If you rank the 156
countries with

of one million or more in order of

per capita GDP
, the top 23 are made up of one

Arab oil country

United Arab Emirates
), four Northeast Asian
countries—and 18 countries with populations primarily
of European origin

Number 24 is Israel,
where Europeans make up a little less than half the
population, but

dominate the economy.
Not until 33rd place do we
find a non-oil country without a predominant European or
Northeast Asian population:

Trinidad and Tobago
, which is 40 percent

South Asian
and 38 percent


The poorest European
country is

, which is still ahead of 66 others.

As of 2006, the 43
countries with majority European populations average
$22,000 each, the eight Northeast Asian countries
$21,000, and the 105 other countries $5,225.

Economists, however, have
intellectually disarmed themselves from tackling this
second question. Clark complains:

“Although the disparities in performance across
countries remained unchanged, the `labor quality`
explanation disappeared from the economics literature
after WWII. … Unskilled labor is assumed to be of the
same quality everywhere.”

Can humans really have
evolved in just the last few millennia, as Gregory Clark

Ironically, despite being
a critic of the last 200 years of economics, Clark still
suffers somewhat from the

economist`s syndrome
of not paying attention to
non-economists. Clark doesn`t make a good case for his
theory because he hasn`t read the basics of behavioral
genetics, such as

Nicholas Wade`s
many New York Times articles
on the subject of rapid recent human evolution (as

in Wade`s 2006 book  Before the Dawn).

So Clark doesn`t cite any
of the abundant evidence that humans can evolve new
tendencies quite quickly. For example, as

Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending
pointed out in
2005, the Jews of the Roman Empire were not known for
being particularly smart (at least not compared to the
Greeks), but they now have the highest average IQ of any
known group.

Clark has read a
lot of anthropology. He points out that hunter-gatherers
and primitive farmers in the rain forests don`t act on
average exactly like modern Englishmen:

“Based on observation of modern forager and shifting
cultivation societies we would expect that early
agriculturalists were impulsive, violent, innumerate,
illiterate, and lazy. Ethnographies of such groups
emphasize high rates of time preference, high levels of
interpersonal violence, and low work inputs. Abstract
reasoning abilities were limited.”

In general,
hunter-gatherers have not made the transition to the
modern world terribly well, with the plight of the

Australian Aborigines
being particularly notorious
at present.

As Wade pointed out in

Before the Dawn
, human skulls have been getting
thinner since the invention of agriculture, presumably
because we get

whacked upside the head
less than our ancestors did,
and thus our brains need less protection from skull
fractures. (That`s probably why Australian Aborigine
hunter-gatherers have the

thickest skulls
on average of any modern human
group.) Because farmers settled down in one place, their
personalities had to settle down too, so they weren`t so
ornery and could get along with larger numbers of

Still, it`s hard to
determine whether the

contemporary troubles
of hunter-gatherers are caused
by a general lack of adaptation to the modern world or
by their specific genetic vulnerability to

. Their ancestors have only been culled by
alcohol-related disasters for the last few generations,
so they are

currently undergoing
the horrors that Mediterranean
peoples presumably underwent when they invented wine
many thousands of years ago. See the stories of


in the early Old Testament for lurid examples of
drunkenness that aren`t very common among modern
Jews—who have extremely low rates of alcoholism, perhaps
due to the newly discovered

genetic variant.

On the other hand,
Clark`s readings in anthropology aren`t all that helpful
to his theory because the vast majority of people alive
today are descended not from recent hunter-gatherers,
but from thousands of years of agriculturalists. In
fact, the

English started farming
and keeping cattle millennia
later than did, say, the Iraqis of the

Fertile Crescent
, which raises a conundrum: Why did
European and Northeast Asian farmers

adapt so rapidly
to the Industrial Revolution, while
other farming peoples are still struggling?

For instance, by careful
study of the oldest industry of the Industrial
Revolution, cotton textiles, Clark shows that English
and American workers have been (and remain) much more
productive than Indian workers, even when using the same
machines with imported English managers.

On average, tropical
peoples seem to

take work less seriously.
A 1909 inquiry into the
cotton mills of India found:

“One manager even stated that the typical worker
`washes, bathes, washes his clothes, smokes, shaves,
sleeps, has his food, and is surrounded as a rule by his

Leaving out the bits
about smoking and shaving, that is an accurate
description of my work habits while attempting (and
repeatedly failing) to complete this book review in my
home office. Which may explain why my productivity
resembles that of an Indian mill worker.

So the real question is
why some farmers` descendents are now more productive
than other farmers` descendents. Over the summer,
physicist Michael A. Hart offered a

simple explanation
in his book Understanding Human History:

that have evolved under

harsher climates
tend to be smarter (which

Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen documented
in 2002`s IQ and the Wealth of Nations.)

I have some concerns with
Hart`s model. Notably, wouldn`t the dry seasons common
in the tropics encourage farmers to work hard to pile up
surpluses during the growing season, just as farmers in
the wintry north had to make hay while the sun shines?

Still, it`s a better
starting point that any economist has come up with yet.

For instance, economics`
latest wunderkind, MIT`s

Daron Acemoglu
, the winner of the 2005 John Bates
Clark medal for best economist under 40, has

posted the draft
of his enormous upcoming textbook
Introduction to Modern Economic Growth

. Despite being 1192 pages long, the terms
and “IQ” never appear in it!

Clark at least mentions
intelligence—only to bring up

Jared Diamond
`s sophistry to dismiss it. Wade

“What was being inherited, in his view, was not
greater intelligence—being a hunter in a foraging
society requires considerably greater skill than the
repetitive actions of an agricultural laborer.”

Okay, sure, but,
according to Clark himself, the people whose descendents
survived in England weren`t agricultural laborers so
much as their bosses, the farmers who told the laborers
what to do. So, the ones who were good at figuring out
how to farm had lots of surviving kids.

I`m not saying that
IQ matters. The traits that Clark emphasizes,
such as cooperativeness and future-orientation, are
important, too.

But, because there is so

data readily available

national average IQs
and their correlation with per
capita income, it makes no sense for economists to
continue to ignore it when writing about the wealth of

Still, despite its flaws,
Clark`s Farewell to Alms will endure as a
landmark in the revival of economics.

[Steve Sailer (
him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic


The American Conservative
His website


features his daily blog.]