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 Ph.D. 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 behaviors that enabled the Industrial Revolution, discussed in his 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 behaviors 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. By that 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. That the book discharges Western politics from every responsibility for the poverty most people on earth are living (and also does not refer in the economic history to events like the oppressive aspects of colonialism), seems to be a reason that not least made its theses attractive to some circles, stated Christof Dejung from the University of Konstanz. 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 (economic, 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".
- 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