Gregory Clark (economist)
Clark, whose grandfathers were migrants to Scotland from Ireland, was born in Bellshill, Scotland. He attended Holy Cross High School in Hamilton. In 1974 he and a fellow pupil Paul Fitzpatrick won the Scottish Daily Express, schools debating competition. After school he earned his B.A. in economics and philosophy at King's College, Cambridge in 1979 and his PhD at Harvard in 1985. He has also taught as an Assistant Professor at Stanford and the University of Michigan.
Clark is now a professor of economics and department chair until 2013 at the University of California, Davis. His areas of research are long term economic growth, the wealth of nations, and the economic history of England and India.
A Farewell to Alms
Clark is most well known for his theory of economic history related to the change in behaviours that enabled the Industrial Revolution, discussed in his 2007 book, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.
A Farewell to Alms — the book's title is a pun on Ernest Hemingway's novel, A Farewell to Arms – discusses the divide between rich and poor nations that came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution in terms of the evolution of particular behaviours originating in Britain. Prior to 1790, Clark asserts, man faced a Malthusian trap: new technology enabled greater productivity and more food, but was quickly gobbled up by higher populations.
In Britain, however, as disease continually killed off poorer members of society, their positions in society were taken over by the sons of the wealthy. In that way, according to Clark, less violent, more literate and more hard-working behaviour were spread culturally and biologically throughout the population. This process of "downward social mobility" eventually enabled Britain to attain a rate of productivity that allowed it to break out of the Malthusian trap. Clark sees this process also til today as the major factor why some countries are poor and others are rich.
With his theses, the book got attention and several reviews from newspapers and scholars. Christof Dejung from the University of Konstanz criticises that the book does not consider the oppressive aspects of colonialism, and concludes: "It seems that the warm welcome the book has found in some circles comes not least from the fact that it discharges the West from every responsibility for the grinding poverty most people on the globe are living in until today." The book has been given praise from authors like Benjamin M. Friedman and Tyler Cowen (Mercatus Center director) ("idea-rich book", maybe "next blockbuster in economics"), though also authors from this political direction do not all agree fully, for example Kuznicki from the libertarian think tank Cato Institute stated in a generally positive review that "his explanation begins to look very ad hoc when considering the last few decades".
Quite critical were reviews looking at the methods (for example accused factual mistakes and complains about missing sources). Deirdre McCloskey (University of Illinois) stated about Clark's theses on genetic influence, that "the main failure of his hypothesis is, oddly, that a book filled with ingenious calculations [...] does not calculate enough. It doesn't ask or answer the crucial historical questions." She concluded: "[...] Clark's socio-neoDarwinianism, which he appears to have acquired from a recent article by some economic theorists, has as little to recommend it as history." Karl Gunnar Persson (economist, University of Copenhagen) stated in the European Review of Economic History that Clark's "Malthusianism is at times more evangelical than empirical and analytical". John S. Lyons (Miami University) concluded with humour in the Journal of Socio-Economics: "casual observation suggests that reviewers have pointed to at least one distinct fault in the book for every two pages or so".
More critical are David Warsh and Joachim Voth. Voth argues that Greg Clark's book is mainly based on a paper of the authors Galor and Moav from 2002 and that Clark has just added some fragmentary and probably unrepresentative points. Similarly, Warsh suggested that "Clark’s book is, to put it frankly, self-aggrandizing to the point of being intellectually dishonest".
Some mixed reviews were critical of the theses and statistics but evaluated the book as well written and interesting. Robert Solow disagreed on the main thesis and accented instead for example institutional changes as reasons for industrialisation. He described some part of the book as stereotypical, some parts as fascinating and thought-provoking—and some parts as just irritating. John S. Lyons, who has worked together with Clark, stated that there are many mistakes in the book, but thinks of the book as interesting though: "wrong in parts, inadequate in others, yet suggestive elsewhere, and fascinating even when annoying".
Clark responded to most critics on his website.
The Son Also Rises
This 2014 book from Princeton University Press follows successful families through the centuries in England, the U.S., Sweden, India, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Chile. Clark uses an innovative technique of following families by seeing whether or not rare surnames kept turning up in university enrollment records, registers of physicians, lists of members of parliament, etc. Clark finds that the persistence of high or low social status is greater than would be expected from the generally accepted correlations of income between parents and children. Social mobility proceeds at a similar rate in all of the societies and in all the periods of history studied. Clark also finds that the persistence of social status within a group is correlated positive with that group's tendency to marry within the group.
From the fact that ethnically homogeneous societies, such as Japan and Korea, had similar rates of social mobility to ethnically diverse societies, such as the U.S., Clark infers that racism may not be a significant factor affecting social mobility. From the fact that families who had many children were able to pass down their high social status just as well as families who had few children, Clark infers that simple inheritance of wealth cannot explain the persistence of high social status. From the referenced studies on the lack of correlation between the intelligence and adult family income of adopted children and their adoptive parents, Clark infers that family environment cannot explain the transmittal of social status from one generation to the next.
Clark wrote a February 21, 2014 New York Times article: "Your Ancestors, Your Fate". This attracted 581 comments, most of them critical of Clark's conclusion that there may be a genetic component to achieving a high social status.
- "Genetically Capitalist?" (2007), University of California
- "A Farewell to Alms" (2007), Princeton University Press
- "The Son Also Rises" (2014), Princeton University Press
- Gregory Clark – Professor of Economics Homepage
- Christof Dejung, University of Konstanz: Review for geschichte.transnational und H-Soz-u-Kult, 2009
- Benjamin M. Friedman: NY Times Book Review
- Tyler Cowen: What Makes a Nation Wealthy? Maybe It’s the Working Stiff
- Jason Kuznicki review in Cato Journal Volume 27 Number 3
- McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen (2007): Comment on Clark; from the book: Bourgeois Towns: How Capitalism Became Ethical, 1600–1776.
- European Review of Economic History (2008), 12: 165–173
- John S. Lyons: The audacity of Clark: A review essay, Journal of Socio-Economics, February 2011
- Robert Solow: ‘Survival of the Richest’?, The New York Review of Books, Nov. 2007