Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Rich Have Inherited the Earth

And we are them. Or so goes my simple reading of this New York Times review of a new book being published by UC-Davis economic historian Gregory Clark. The central thesis of Clark's work, based on analysis of economic data from the Middle Ages, is that demographic trends in those years lead to a downward social mobility where the progeny of the rich, imbued with a certain psychological disposition and value set, began to form a larger portion of society, fostering the shift from a cycle of subsistence to economic cycles where wealth was created, consolidated, and enhanced:
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.
I won't form an opinion from the review alone, and hopefully will get to the book in the near future. In the mean time, you can read along with the folks at the Marginal Revolution blog.
Thanks to DL for forwarding the original article.

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