Sunday, August 12, 2007

The genesis of the modern world

Modern industrial civilization developed in countries with a large Protestant population -- mainly in England -- but is religion alone enough to explain why? There was certainly a long gap between the establishment of Protestantism in England (which stretched from Wycliffe in the 1300s to Elizabeth I in the 1500s) and the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s. I suspect that a combination of Protestantism with other factors -- such as the newly revealed one mentioned below -- made the difference

Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, believes that the Industrial Revolution - the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 - occurred because of a change in the nature of the human population. The change was one in which people gradually developed the strange new behaviors required to make a modern economy work. The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues....

The Industrial Revolution, the first escape from the Malthusian trap, occurred when the efficiency of production at last accelerated, growing fast enough to outpace population growth and allow average incomes to rise. Many explanations have been offered for this spurt in efficiency, some economic and some political, but none is fully satisfactory, historians say.

Dr. Clark's first thought was that the population might have evolved greater resistance to disease. The idea came from Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs and Steel," which argues that Europeans were able to conquer other nations in part because of their greater immunity to disease. In support of the disease-resistance idea, cities like London were so filthy and disease ridden that a third of their populations died off every generation, and the losses were restored by immigrants from the countryside. That suggested to Dr. Clark that the surviving population of England might be the descendants of peasants.

A way to test the idea, he realized, was through analysis of ancient wills, which might reveal a connection between wealth and the number of progeny. The wills did that, but in quite the opposite direction to what he had expected. Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. "The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages," he concluded.

As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them. He has documented that several aspects of what might now be called middle-class values changed significantly from the days of hunter gatherer societies to 1800. Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped.

Another significant change in behavior, Dr. Clark argues, was an increase in people's preference for saving over instant consumption, which he sees reflected in the steady decline in interest rates from 1200 to 1800. "Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving," Dr. Clark writes.

Around 1790, a steady upward trend in production efficiency first emerges in the English economy. It was this significant acceleration in the rate of productivity growth that at last made possible England's escape from the Malthusian trap and the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. It is puzzling that the Industrial Revolution did not occur first in the much larger populations of China or Japan. Dr. Clark has found data showing that their richer classes, the Samurai in Japan and the Qing dynasty in China, were surprisingly unfertile and so would have failed to generate the downward social mobility that spread production-oriented values in England.

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. Rather, it was "a repertoire of skills and dispositions that were very different from those of the pre-agrarian world." ...

Most historians have assumed that evolutionary change is too gradual to have affected human populations in the historical period. But geneticists, with information from the human genome now at their disposal, have begun to detect ever more recent instances of human evolutionary change like the spread of lactose tolerance in cattle-raising people of northern Europe just 5,000 years ago. A study in the current American Journal of Human Genetics finds evidence of natural selection at work in the population of Puerto Rico since 1513. So historians are likely to be more enthusiastic about the medieval economic data and elaborate time series that Dr. Clark has reconstructed than about his suggestion that people adapted to the Malthusian constraints of an agrarian society....

Dr. Bowles, the Santa Fe economist, said he was "not averse to the idea" that genetic transmission of capitalist values is important, but that the evidence for it was not yet there. "It's just that we don't have any idea what it is, and everything we look at ends up being awfully small," he said. Tests of most social behaviors show they are very weakly heritable. He also took issue with Dr. Clark's suggestion that the unwillingness to postpone consumption, called time preference by economists, had changed in people over the centuries. "If I were as poor as the people who take out payday loans, I might also have a high time preference," he said.

More here



Don Surber has a very amusing roundup of "The week that was"

Is there any end to U.S. airline stupidity? "An Australian woman was branded a criminal by airline officials after "swearing" on an American flight - with a classic, and utterly inoffensive, Aussie oath. "Fair dinkum," New South Wales woman Sophie Reynolds muttered when told by an air hostess that there were no pretzels for her to snack on. The next thing Ms Reynolds knew, the flight crew had demanded her passport to note down her details, telling her that swearing at attendants was a crime. The 41-year-old, who lives in Queanbeyan, near Canberra, was stunned to find three uniformed officers waiting for her when she left the flight in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "They said: 'You swore at the hostess and there are federal rules against that'," Reynolds told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And I said: 'I did not swear at the hostess, I just said 'fair dinkum'." Reynolds was travelling on a Delta Connection flight on SkyWest Airlines. Ms Snow said the Utah-based airline, which flies under contract to Delta Air Lines, was still trying to contact Ms Reynolds. She said no charges had been filed as a result of the incident and Ms Reynolds had been allowed to go on her way after talking to police." [In the context, the expression simply meant, "Really?". What sort of logic is it to describe as abuse words that they do not understand?]

Canada to build new military bases. How un-Canadian!: "Canada fired a warning shot in a new Cold War over the vast resources of the far North by announcing last night that it will build two new military bases in the Arctic wilderness. A week after Russia laid claim to the North Pole in what is rapidly becoming a global scramble for the region's vast oil and gas reserves, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, said that Canada would open a new army training centre for cold-weather fighting at Resolute Bay, and a deep-water port at Nanisivik, on the northern tip of Baffin Island. The country is also beefing up its military presence in the far North with 900 Rangers."

'BET' Gets Thumbs Down Award From Journalists: "The cable TV channel Black Entertainment Television receives a "Thumbs Down" award from the National Association of Black Journalists at its annual convention. Its critics say BET has too much low-brow entertainment, portraying blacks in the worst possible way." [No comment]

Ski resort's 'Impeach Bush' vote backfires: "Some of the ski fans who have patronized Telluride, Colo., now are calling the ritzy resort "the land of radical liberals" and canceling planned vacations there because the town board voted to approve an ordinance calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. One ski club of 175 people already has made plans to go elsewhere, another skier has threatened to sell his home there and another critic predicted the town soon would bow to Mecca. "It's huge, unbelievable," said Telluride Mayor John Pryor. "Ski groups are canceling for the winter. Hundreds of people are bailing. The (town) website is flooded with people saying they're canceling their vacations here."


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"Why should the German be interested in the liberation of the Jew, if the Jew is not interested in the liberation of the German?... We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time... In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.... Indeed, in North America, the practical domination of Judaism over the Christian world has achieved as its unambiguous and normal expression that the preaching of the Gospel itself and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade... Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist". Who said that? Hitler? No. It was Karl Marx. See also here and here and here.

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialistisch) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party".


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