The Clark's thesis

Before 1800 all societies, including England, were Malthusian. The average man or woman had 2 surviving children. Such societies were also Darwinian. Some reproductively successful groups produced more than 2 surviving children, increasing their share of the population, while other groups produced less, so that their share declined. But unusually in England, this selection for men was based on economic success from at least 1250, not success in violence as in some other pre-industrial societies. The richest male testators left twice as many children as the poorest. Consequently the modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the middle ages. At the same time, from 1150 to 1800 in England there are clear signs of changes in average economic preferences towards more “capitalist” attitudes. The highly capitalistic nature of English society by 1800 – individualism, low time preference rates, long work hours, high levels of human capital – may thus stem from the nature of the Darwinian struggle in a very stable agrarian society in the long run up to the Industrial Revolution. The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.

Source : G. Clark : "Genetically Capitalist? The Malthusian Era, Institutions and the Formation of Modern Preferences", Draft, 3 March 2007

Eléments d'analyse :

1/ Key-words : Malthusian trap (economic situation where society is maintained at its subsistence level :

New technology => higher productivity => higher income per capita => more birth, less deaths => population increases => return to subsistence level, regular increase in population without income per capita improvements.

2/Main idea : Wealthier people had more children who were less violent (decline in deaths by violence from the 12th and the 13th). As poorer members of society failed to replace themselves, descendants of wealthier people began to pervade all levels of society, and behaviors gradually changed. Weathier people had more children who were more literate. So these society-wide changes, mirrowing similar trends toward longer work hours and a preference toward savings, effectively spread production-oriented values. Around 1790, gains in efficiency were finally able to outpace populaiton growth, allowing society to escape from subsistence level. Finaly, wealthier had a comparative advantage in history resulting in the birth of capitalist system.

3/ There are other plausible deep determinants of economic growth : * institutions (rules of behavior, habits, rules of law, political system preventing corruption, patents law allowing scientific discovering and innovation, property rights to protect owners, enforcement of contratcts, market stabilizing institutions that ensure low inflation, minimize macroeconomic volatility, avert financial crisis, market legitimizing institutions that provide social protection and insurance, involve redistribution like pensions systems, unemployment insurance schemes...) and * geography (high distance from markets, land locked countries, burden like malaria especially in sub-saharian Africa, climate theory of Montesquieu)

 

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