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New Explanation For the Industrial Revolution 504

Posted by kdawson
from the evolution-acting-in-history dept.
Pcol writes "The New York Times is running a story on Dr. Gregory Clark's book 'A Farewell to Alms,' which offers a new explanation for the Industrial Revolution and the affluence it created. Dr. Clark, an economic historian at the University of California Davis, postulates that the surge in economic growth that occurred first in England around 1800 came about because of the strange new behaviors of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours, and a willingness to save. Clark's research shows that between 1200 and 1800, the rich had more surviving children than the poor and that he postulates that this caused 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,' Clark concludes. Work hours increased, literacy and numeracy rose, and the level of interpersonal violence dropped. Around 1790, a steady upward trend in production efficiency caused a significant acceleration in the rate of productivity growth that at last made possible England's escape from the Malthusian trap."
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New Explanation For the Industrial Revolution

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  • Caffeine (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lindsay Lohan (847467) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:23PM (#20149653) Homepage Journal
    It's hardly coincidental that coffee and tea caught on in Europe just as the first factories were bringing in the industrial revolution.

    The widespread use of caffeinated drinks helped transform human economies from farm to factory. Boiling water helped decrease disease among city workers. And caffeine kept them from falling asleep over the machinery.

    In a sense, caffeine is the drug that made the modern world possible. And the more modern our world gets, the more we seem to need it. Without that useful jolt of coffee--or Diet Coke or Red Bull--to get us out of bed and back to work, the world of the average /.'er wouldn't exist.
    • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Funny)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:27PM (#20149731) Homepage Journal
      Only a Slashdot would we see this explanation modded up insightful... ;)
      • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Funny)

        by SIGALRM (784769) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:29PM (#20149745) Journal
        I think OP *was* insightful. Caffeine makes working insane hours a bit more plausible for me.
    • Amen brother.
    • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meringuoid (568297) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:34PM (#20149819)
      Boiling water helped decrease disease among city workers.

      This may actually be a major component in why the Industrial Revolution took off in England.

      Between the fall of Rome and the rise of London, the only cities on earth to approach a million in population were in China. Once the tea culture took root in England, the habit of boiling water allowed urbanisation to increase dramatically, where hitherto cities had been limited by our frankly shocking approach to sanitation.

      Well, that and the establishment of imperial trade routes across the world, the merger with Holland linking British resources with Dutch financing, the convenience of not having to spend much on the army and instead putting all that money into boats (see Imperial Trade Routes above for the uses we found for 'em)...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by dwater (72834)
        > our frankly shocking approach to sanitation

        Quote flash :
        Edmund Bladkadder : Well, what we're talking about in, erm, privy terms is the very latest in front-wall, fresh-air orifices, combined with a wide-capacity gutter installation below.
        Mollie : You mean you crap out of the window.
        Edmund Bladkadder : Yes!
      • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:47PM (#20152021) Homepage
        Going a step back, why were so many able to boil water? Fossil fuels. Coal, then oil, then natural gas. The industrial revolution has its roots in virtually free energy to run machines and generate food. Fossil fuels are amazingly dense energy sources plus a cheap way to produce food (natural gas=fertilizer, oil=pesticides, diesel tractors=more land under cultivation, trains/trucks/planes=more food to market unspoilt ... together they add up to expanded food supply and exponentially increasing population).

        Anyway, this guy's argument seems to boil down to something like "all the lazy and stupid people died out". How long after the onset of the industrial revolution however, did things change so that those in the upper rungs have began having fewer kids and only the poor and uneducated (or very religious) did the serious breeding? Anyway, this notion sounds far fetched to me.
      • It's not that simple (Score:5, Informative)

        by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday August 08, 2007 @03:57AM (#20153449) Journal
        The problem with people trying to understand why there was no industrialization in 1100 as opposed to 1800, is that we all tend to take a lot of things for granted that are only true _today_. And miss a lot of real limiting factors.

        E.g., earlier they simply needed 90% of the population working in agriculture, so that simply didn't leave enough people to build an industry with. When you realize that the other 10% were the army, clerks, clerics, etc, and a few craftsmen, that was all your population accounted for.

        During most of the middle ages, for example, agricultural production was about 2 to 7 grains harvested for every 1 grain planted, which is piss-poor. They had a unit of surface for how much land is needed for a peasant family to subsist on, and support 1/5 of a knight, the "hide". It was 60 to 120 old acres, or 15 to 30 modern acres, or 6 to 12 hectares, depending on fertility. You needed that freaking much land just to feed a family and pay 1/5 of one knight's fee.

        (And if you didn't pay that knight, someone else would come who had knights, and take your land and your crops. Getting more craftsmen and less soldiers was just not an option.)

        You just couldn't _feed_ a horde of industrial workers earlier. You had a cap on how much population you can feed, and everyone over that limit would just starve. That they died of plagues was just as well, because the alternative was to die of starvation anyway.

        Boiling the water wouldn't have solved much, because you'd just have more population to starve instead.

        Violence? That was the reason for violence right there too. When people's only choice is to starve or mug someone, they'll mug someone. Well, not always the vulgar robbing one in a dark alley, but also the organized mugging a state by another, a.k.a., warfare. Or raids across the border motivated by just hunger.

        You can see what happens when more population survives than you can feed, because that was the Viking invasions. As only the oldest son would inherit the farm, there were a lot of sons kicked on the street with exactly no means of subsistence. And that farm just couldn't feed more than a family, locally or in the city. If not enough people died of disease, that was a lot of population who had to work as mercenaries, guards, or pirates. ("Vikings" was what they called the pirates.)

        A lot of people there simply _had_ to raid and loot, because the local economy couldn't support them. It wasn't a fun life. They were dirt-poor desperate people whose whole belongings fit in the small box they sat on when they rowed the longship. They had a choice to die painfully in battle or die slowly of hunger, and they chose the former.

        The whole belief in the warlike Aesir gods wasn't as much the cause of violence, but the result of _having_ to be violent to maybe survive a little longer. Damn right you had to believe there's a sense to it all, and that there's some reward awaiting you for that shitty life.

        That's really what would have happened if they started being healthier sooner. They'd just have produced more people that the economy can't feed. And they wouldn't have started a great industry, simply because industrial workers need to eat too. If the agriculture doesn't support them, that's it.

        That's, of course, one of the factors that armchair historians miss, but it will have to do as an example. The industrial revolution didn't start earlier, simply because a lot of things weren't there to support that kind of a society. You can't go and say, basically, "oh, I know, it's because they didn't boil water" or "oh, I know, it's because they were too bigotted and violent", when other things (e.g., agricultural production) weren't there to support larger urban populations anyway.

        Other surrealistic ideas I see thrown around, some even in the summary, include that somehow it took a culture change to get people to work long hours rather than stay poor (they worked long hours earlier too) or that only now they realized they should save money t
        • by skeptictank (841287) on Wednesday August 08, 2007 @09:51AM (#20155869)
          "During most of the middle ages, for example, agricultural production was about 2 to 7 grains harvested for every 1 grain planted, which is piss-poor. They had a unit of surface for how much land is needed for a peasant family to subsist on, and support 1/5 of a knight, the "hide". It was 60 to 120 old acres, or 15 to 30 modern acres, or 6 to 12 hectares, depending on fertility. You needed that freaking much land just to feed a family and pay 1/5 of one knight's fee."

          As the parent points out open field farming in the middle-ages in England and France was extremely inefficient. The labor dues owed to the lord of the manor by a family working a 30 acre tenancy was 3 full days of labor per week. This was on top of the rent they paid and they also had to work their own fields. A typical manor had a large pool of labor to draw upon - far more than it needed during most of the year. This kept the price of labor very low and peasants very poor.

          The big factor that changed things was the Black Death. The plague outbreaks in the 1300's changed the economic landscape. The size of the labor pool dropped dramatically. The people that survived became much more prosperous, because there was a lot more land to work per person. Workers were paid higher wages, even though laws intended to keep wages low were put into place pretty much universally.

          The growing prosperity of peasant families after the plague wasn't caused by rich people becoming peasants, it was caused by a smaller population density in the rural areas. The trend gets accentuated by demand for wool in the coming centuries and the 'discovery' that fencing of fields makes them much easier to manage and more productive. By the 1500's grain yields on enclosed acreage was much higher than it had been in the 1200s on open fields, even though the climate was worse.

          If there is one single factor that leads to the industrial revolution it's the plague outbreaks that start in the 1340s. Even though it happens hundreds of years before the industrial revolution, its the plague that causes the break down of the old economic system that had been in place in much of Europe since the end of the Western Roman Empire.

      • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bombula (670389) on Wednesday August 08, 2007 @05:10AM (#20153759)
        the habit of boiling water allowed urbanisation to increase dramatically, where hitherto cities had been limited by our frankly shocking approach to sanitation.

        I think you'll find alcohol took care of the sterilization job long before boiling took off in 'western' cultures (it was widespread elsewhere long before). Throughout most of history, beer and wine were much safer to drink than fresh water. Milk is sterile enough straight from the tap but doesn't stay that way, whereas booze does. I think you'd have a much harder time making the 'tea made urbanization possible' argument than the 'beer made civilization possible' argument. Hopefully that puts things into perspective...

      • Re:Caffeine (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Weedlekin (836313) on Wednesday August 08, 2007 @07:17AM (#20154407)
        ""Boiling water helped decrease disease among city workers.""
        "This may actually be a major component in why the Industrial Revolution took off in England."

        The reason the Industrial Revolution happened in England was largely due to the British Agricultural Revolution, which dramatically increased yields (and therefore the number of people who could be fed per acre of arable land) while also progressively replacing common fields with privately owned ones, displacing those who had previously farmed those fields. The writing was already on the wall by the late 16th century, and agricultural mechanisation in the 18th century sounded the final death knell of both common land farmers and labour-intensive agriculture because it favoured the owners of large tracts of land, who now required far fewer people to work them. Britain had undergone two prior major population explosions (in the 13th and mid 17th centuries), but starvation had resulted in the population falling again due to a lack of adequate agricultural output. The population explosion of the mid 1700s was however sustainable with the new farming techniques, and this led to a permanent (and growing) increase in demand for clothing, pottery, and various other goods that the large and growing labour pool could fulfil by forming cottage industries, which also exploded during this period, and were the precursors to the Industrial Revolution that followed.

        Other important factors for Britain were (as you say) its growing trade empire, which led to an accumulation of capital that was looking for profitable investments; a simultaneous scientific and engineering revolution that supplied industry with ever more efficient manufacturing and transport technologies; and significant domestic reserves of coal to drive the new machines. It's also interesting to note that unlike much of the rest of Europe, where countries were often split into separate governmental regions that taxed any items which crossed their borders, Britain was for trade purposes a single nation that allowed products to move freely from any area to any other area, so both manufacturers and food producers had a large and increasingly wealthy domestic market for their wares.

        Increased literacy and numeracy were a by-product of the industrial revolution rather than a causal factor (I know you didn't say anything to the contrary, but the theory this topic is based around does). Industries cannot run with manual labour alone: they also need clerks, accountants, secretaries, and other "white collar" workers to handle their many administrative tasks, and such people are also necessary for the large number of financial and service industries that grew up around the factories (banking, transport, postal services, etc.). Such people don't just appear magically from nowhere, but have to be trained, and it didn't take long to realise that the most efficient way to do this was by educating children. A provision of the Factories Act of 1833 made it law for employers of children under the age of 13 to provide them with at least 3 hours of free (i.e. costs could not be deducted from their meagre wages) education per day that they worked, although most large employers had already been doing this for some time because they'd realised that it was a cheap way of turning common labourers into a (then) much rarer and therefore more valuable type of employee. This led to the establishment of the British "middle class" (Americans should note that the British definition of "middle class" isn't quite the same as that of the US).
    • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:40PM (#20149885)
      Like all other drugs, caffeine loses its effect unless you keep increasing the dose. The stimulating effect of caffeine is vastly overestimated and doesn't last if you keep "using". If you don't believe this, don't consume caffeine in any form for half a year and then see what effect a single cup of coffee has on you after you've been weaned of caffeine. I would suggest that caffeine causes more accidents by making people think they can stay awake with coffee than it prevents by keeping people awake a little longer.
    • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:13PM (#20150261) Homepage Journal
      You make a very good point. I can think of a few additional facts that back you up.

      You mention infected water. People were actually aware of this problem, and had a strategy to avoid it: they only drank alcoholic beverages. In pre-industrial times most western people were (by modern standards) total lushes. Not exactly conducive to industrialization.

      During the early stages of the industrial revolution, there was a huge demand for tea. Every American schoolchild knows about the hassles over the colonial tax on tea. Various western powers actually invaded China to establish their right to export tea. (The Chinese didn't mind selling the tea, but they didn't care for the traders importing opium to pay for it.)

      Unfortunately, most of the moderators don't get that you're serious. Most of your mods are "funny" and there was at least one "flamebait". I'll say it again: the moderator pool sucks.
      • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Informative)

        by bladesjester (774793) <[moc.daehsgnillohsemaj] [ta] [todhsals]> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:47PM (#20151055) Homepage Journal
        In pre-industrial times most western people were (by modern standards) total lushes. Not exactly conducive to industrialization.

        Actually, most of the beer consumed in England and Europe during the day was what would be considered "small beer". It was only about 2.5% alcohol (enough to kill bacteria, but not enough to cause dehydration like stronger drinks or really to cause much in the way of intoxication). It was safer than the local untreated water and yet not so alcoholic that it would cause any significant imparement.

        In addition, in several parts of Europe, beer was almost bread in a bottle. It had a great deal of carbs and a fair amount of protein. That was important because there wasn't always a lot of food and, as a side effect, the composition of the beer basically helped to slow the body's assimilation of the alcohol because it was working to process food at the same time.
    • Boiling water helped decrease disease among city workers.


      Didn't drinking beer have a similar benefit over contaminated water?

      Caffeine by day and alcohol by night... the yin and yang of modern existence.

    • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Funny)

      by suv4x4 (956391) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @10:11PM (#20151263)
      It's hardly coincidental that coffee and tea caught on in Europe just as the first factories were bringing in the industrial revolution.

      That, AND they found Megatron burried in the ice around that time.
    • Re:Caffeine (Score:5, Insightful)

      by syousef (465911) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @10:41PM (#20151515) Journal
      Actually you have a point and I don't think you should be modded funny.

      However I also think it's flawed to try to point at a single cause for industrialization. I think a whole set of inter-related changes led to the boom in the 1800s. Part of it was better medicine and living conditions. Part of it was increased trade allowing things such as tea and coffee (and many other useful things!) to become more widely available. Part of it was the culture at the time that supported the ideal of working long hours to avoid poverty. Part of it was advances in science and engineering. All these things mingle.

      For example science feeds into medical science, which is sustained by trade of knowledge and materials, which also helps engineering. etc. etc.
  • by sznupi (719324) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:25PM (#20149691) Homepage
    And now, as evidenced by intro of "Idiocracy", we have a trend in other direction...
  • A counter example (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:31PM (#20149769)
    In lots of societies, the rich reproduce faster than the poor. A counter example would be societies with polygamy. In that case, many men can't marry because the rich have all the women. Those single men don't reproduce at all. By TFA's logic, those societies should have outstripped us long ago.

    Try again dude.
    • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:39PM (#20149877) Homepage Journal
      A worse counter-example; 200 years after the Industrial Revolution, the rich are dying out. Their long hours managing their money means they have significantly less time for family- there isn't a first world country today that is above ZPG demographically when you eliminate immigration.
      • by misleb (129952) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:56PM (#20150077)

        A worse counter-example; 200 years after the Industrial Revolution, the rich are dying out. Their long hours managing their money means they have significantly less time for family- there isn't a first world country today that is above ZPG demographically when you eliminate immigration.


        Well, that isn't really a counter-example because weren't now in a different "revolution." This is the "information revolution" or whatever you want to call it. So I don't think you could necessarily compare today's trends to those 200 years ago. For one thing, we now have reliable forms of birth control (as well as access to it and knowledge about it), so having children is much more of a choice.

      • by sanman2 (928866) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:32PM (#20150919)
        I thought HORNY PEOPLE out-reproduce everybody else. So society is getting progressively hornier all the time. Logically, we'll eventually reach a situation where we can't go 5 minutes without sex. We'll be like lemmings.
    • Re:A counter example (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:41PM (#20149899)
      In lots of societies, the rich reproduce faster than the poor.

      That blanket statement simply isn't true. The fast majority of poor africans produce many more children than rich fat westerners. You might say it's a cultural thing, or maybe they need more children to tend the fields, but I knew a Medecin Sans Frontier doctor who worked there and had another explanation that sounds weird but kind of makes sense: when people are hungry, they compensate with sex.
      • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:46PM (#20149953) Homepage Journal
        If you RTFA- only SURVIVING children count. If you lose 75% of your children before they reach adulthood, then you need to have more....
        • Re:A counter example (Score:5, Informative)

          by d34thm0nk3y (653414) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:50PM (#20151077)
          Population growth by country, notice anything?
          Link [wikipedia.org]
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by o'reor (581921)
            My, my, look at Vatican City: positive growth rate! (okay, so it's only 0.05%, but it's positive all the same).

            It's not exactly as if all those priests and nuns were breeding like rabbits, but still...

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by junglee_iitk (651040)
              There is just so much misinformation. I did a a sociology course on Population and Economy, here is what I was thought:

              1) During last century, birth-rate has become almost constant because of improvements in medical science, and these improvements being available to poor.

              2) The deciding factor on population growth is thus, and the ONLY major part: death-rate.

              That's right! Because life increasing medicines and cure for terminal diseases have still not reached third world country.
              So, here goes your logic on c
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kenshin (43036)
        Don't forget a lack of sex education and contraceptives...
      • Re:A counter example (Score:5, Interesting)

        by klenwell (960296) <klenwell@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:36PM (#20151929) Homepage Journal
        The fast majority of poor africans produce many more children than rich fat westerners.

        I don't know how the inter-cultural numbers stack up, but intra-culturally speaking, I had learned to associate greater levels of education in modern industrialized societies with less children. But then I heard this story on NPR this weekend:

        In Some Circles, Four Kids Is the New Standard [npr.org]

        The newest status symbol for the nation's most affluent families is fast becoming a big brood of kids.

        Historically, the country-club set has had the smallest number of kids. But in the past 10 years, the number of high-end earners who are having three or more kids has shot up nearly 30 percent.

        Some say the trend is driven by a generation of over-achieving career women who have quit work and transferred all of their competitive energy to baby making.


        I'm sure Thorstein Veblen is smirking in his grave.
    • how is it that the rich reproduce faster than the poor? The poor need more children to work the fields, or in factories. Affluent people in societies tend to have less children, as is the case in europe, japan and the US. Antecdotally, poor irish families escaping the potato famine were known for having larger families than their english counterparts
  • Another thought... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moore.dustin (942289) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:31PM (#20149771) Homepage
    I can see how one may come to his conclusion. It is certainly not unreasonable. I do have another thought that is in line with this thinking.

    Would the better literacy and general education not yield more technology which would result in increased production? Sure longer working hours contribute, but generally speaking, if you have more educated people, you have more people thinking constructively. I tend to think that the longer hours were a not large contribution, but rather, what people were able to do in those hours was the bigger issue. So really, the better education allowed people to develop ways to produce more by changing how the labor did something instead of just doing something for longer.

    Just a thought really, I hope that came through as I intended.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by meringuoid (568297)
      Would the better literacy and general education not yield more technology which would result in increased production?

      Absolutely. There were a lot of large-scale circumstances that made it possible, but in the end it wouldn't have happened if not for a lot of entrepreneurial Northern gentlemen coming up with gadgets to improve efficiency [wikipedia.org] and making a fortune doing it. And making it worthwhile for people to build canals to ship their raw materials and produce around because of the hugely increased capacity.

    • So what you're saying is that external education counts more than family values? Hard to separate this out- since better education WAS one of the upper class's family values in that period, and the poor had no access to education, so was it the family values, or the education encouraged by those family values? I think you've identified a chicken-and-egg problem.
    • by fm6 (162816)

      I tend to think that the longer hours were a not large contribution, but rather, what people were able to do in those hours was the bigger issue

      How could longer hours not be a large contribution? Longer working hours means lower operating costs. Not a small factor in business.

      You seem to want to emphasize the rosy side of the industrial revolution: improved education and better technology. But it had a dark side: peasants forced off the land (agriculture was going industrial too) and forced to put in 80 h

    • One other very important trend in England at the same time was the evolution from the rule of edict to the rule of law. In 1200 if the King (or other aristocrat noticeably higher in rank than you) wanted what you had, he took it. Which meant that as you acquired wealth you had to also acquire military power or someone would take your wealth. By 1800, there were rules which the King could not violate that regulated what he could take and under what conditions. These rules were still less than perfect (and th
  • institutions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:33PM (#20149811)
    It's odd that Clark says that institutional change had nothing to do with it. So there was no point in Adam Smith back in 1776 writing the Wealth of Nations arguing that the laws should be changed to promote capitalism? Or what about China, which did poorly under Maoism but since then has enjoyed remarkable growth under a more capitalist set of laws?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Without the change in common values, such laws could be passed but would not have been followed. Laws require morality to underlie them if they are to be any use whatsoever.
    • Chicken and egg (Score:3, Insightful)

      For laws to be changed to be more capitalistic people have to become more capitalism-minded.

      Maybe China saw a good case for capitalism (the USA). Then after a generation or two the rulers had a new mindset. One that allowed (and even promoted) capitalistic values. And guess what has happened economic growth in China has exploded.

      If there are no capitalists in a nation you can change the laws all you want. But people will still highly prefer to trust their income to their employer or to the government.
  • "Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving," Dr. Clark writes.

    And so what happens when the reverse hits a culture, and easy credit replaces thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work?
    • by meringuoid (568297) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:44PM (#20149927)
      And so what happens when the reverse hits a culture, and easy credit replaces thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work?

      Actually, there was an awful lot of easy credit around in Britain at the time. Certainly far easier than in the mediaeval period, where getting credit rather depended on there not having been any pogroms lately. Since William of Orange had become king, access to the stock markets and merchant banks of Holland had been easy, and similar institutions were being established in London. They were prepared to finance startups much as they are today. It's really just a question of what you do with your easy credit.

    • by n dot l (1099033) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:12PM (#20150251)

      And so what happens when the reverse hits a culture, and easy credit replaces thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work?
      At first the easy credit is funnelled into investment (because investment is already a habbit of the old savings-based society). Businesses do amazingly well with all of the new capital and a bunch of new products appear on the market.

      Then, people realize that there's even more credit to be had and start spending it on a few luxuries here and there. Seeing that a few luxuries didn't lead to immediate bankrupcy, people go out and buy more and more things on credit. At some point, the loans come due and since people aren't usually willing to get rid of their stuff they pull their investments out of businesses and use them to pay the loans that have come due. Businesses suffer, wages don't go up and prices don't go down as fast as they should, people go get more loans to support their new spending habbits.

      The spiral continues until many of the jobs have been outsourced to cheap foreign labour (since the locals are demanding higher wages which businesses can't/won't provide - especially when they face the threat of having their share price go down). Desperate politicians resort to pork-barrel spending and random wars to prop up the economy, but the inflation these actions cause hurts the middle and lower classes more than it helps the businesses that sustain them, forcing them further into debt. The random wars make foreign suppliers leery of said nation (they're afraid said nation might spend all its money on bombs and end up unable to pay for the last shipment of cheap stuff, let alone the next one) and the price of imports starts to go up - forcing people even further into debt yet again.

      At some point the banks realize that nobody's going to be able to repay their loans because nobody actually owns anything of value and the cheap credit dries up. This breaks the consumption cycle and plunges the nation into a depression. Small banks go out of business. Big banks, naturally, forclose on everything and find that they now own the place. They sit tight and wait for the economy to pick up again so they can sell (well, loan, really) all the stuff they just acquired for free back to the people they took it from.

      This lasts until people figure out that being able to produce goods is actually important and shouldn't be neglected in favor of rampant consumerism. The banks regain their confidence in the economy and start mortgaging all the assets they foreclosed on back out again, and businesses start working hard to earn a proffit and repay those loans. At this point we come back to a thrifty, productive, society that saves its money and invests in its own enterprises.

      A few generations go by. People forget all about the crash of 'whenever. The cycle repeats.
      • It's a nice theory. It's disconnected from reality in too many places to mention. But it's a nice theory.
    • by roman_mir (125474)
      And so what happens when the reverse hits a culture, and easy credit replaces thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work? - Oh, that's simple!

      Idiocracy part 1 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 2 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 3 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 4 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 5 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 6 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 7 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 8 [youtube.com]
      Idiocracy part 9 [youtube.com]
  • Selective breeding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Starteck81 (917280) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:36PM (#20149851)

    Clark's research shows that between 1200 and 1800, the rich had more surviving children than the poor and that he postulates that this caused 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,'

    If he is correct in his hypothesis then we're in trouble. If the article post last week about Smart Teens [slashdot.org] having less sex can be extrapolated to adults then we should see the opposite happen in the US. It already felt like the general populace of the USA is getting dumber this just seems to confirm my suspicions.
    • Take a look at the high breeders in your country.... them that start at age 12 and keep popping them out until death or menopause (whichever comes first). Even if you live in a so-called first world country, it is more likely that the third-world element of that country is a growing % of the population. Give it another generation or two and pretty much any first world country has a third-world future.
      • by megaditto (982598)
        If not for us high breeders, AmerIndians would still be here smoking them pipes. You just don't like the current wave of high breeders 'cause they look different, just admit it.
        • If not for us high breeders, AmerIndians would still be here smoking them pipes.

          You say that as if you consider that to be a good change. I do not believe it to be so.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That's been the case for a while now. Miraculously, we've escaped that for the time being. You seem to be assuming that the "high breeders...them that start at age 12 and keep popping them out until death or menopause" are genetically inferior and will always be in that same socioeconomic class. However, both of those statements are untrue, and it's improbable that this collapse you speak of will occur within the next few generations.
    • by king-manic (409855) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:58PM (#20150099)

      If he is correct in his hypothesis then we're in trouble. If the article post last week about Smart Teens having less sex can be extrapolated to adults then we should see the opposite happen in the US. It already felt like the general populace of the USA is getting dumber this just seems to confirm my suspicions.


      We should introduce an artificial selection pressure. How about a mechanical sphynx that targets pre-pubescent with random algebra, English, and social questions and if you fail ti eats you.
    • by naoursla (99850)
      But the good news is that this will result in upward social mobility.
  • So now what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pinkstuff (758732) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:45PM (#20149941)

    The poor are now having more surviving children [stuff.co.nz] than the rich. So are we now going to go back to the middle ages?

    • No, just back to Malthusian agronomics- because every new advance in creating food will just increase the population of the poor.
  • Class System (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BrookHarty (9119) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:51PM (#20150013) Homepage Journal
    I could see how a class system in place, and the working class dieing at a higher rate, could support his theory of natural selection help the economic growth. The wealth moved downwards, which in turn turned raised the overall economy. We see this when the working classes started to buy more creating more of a demand and thus the start of the industrial revolution.

    And he hits it on the head when he shows how China and Japan didn't have the same factors until much later. China is pushing to create a modernization push at the expense of the health, thus the supporting his 'germ' argument that can still stifle the lower class. (Of course, the new black death could be aids, which china is starting to have issues with the new high level of prostitution and drug use) so it will be interesting to see how it works out for them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by mcrbids (148650)
      I could see how a class system in place, and the working class dieing at a higher rate, could support his theory of natural selection help the economic growth. The wealth moved downwards, which in turn turned raised the overall economy. We see this when the working classes started to buy more creating more of a demand and thus the start of the industrial revolution.

      What is for me very sobering is the effect that the welfare state has had recently in the United States. The rich have very few children as a re
  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:00PM (#20150141)
    Weather improved after the last big Volcanic explosion at an Asian volcano, and thus food production went up, and that will count for something, along with a switch from alcoholic drinks to minimize bad water quality to coffee and tea as noted by other slashdotters.

    General production of more advanced materials started to make a significant difference with cast iron, steel from Bessemer's furnaces in 1850s, and concrete in 1840s and steam engines w/Fulton's steam boat in the first decade of the 1800s, and not the least were steam powered looms just before 1800 which allowed large improvements in cloth and reduction in prices which freed huge numbers of people from subsistence clothing jobs.

    Lots of things came together at once to make manual labor less intensive, even with just simple tools.
  • by dircha (893383) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:15PM (#20150279)
    According to the article, as a result of the rich reproducing more successfully than the poor and replacing the poor in the jobs and communities, says the author, "Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving,"

    In other words, the poor are poor because they are irrational and lazy and passed these values onto their children.

    More, he is suggesting not only have these values been passed from rich people in one generation to the next, but in fact that as a result of this period of the rich being overwhelmingly more successful in procreating, rapid biological evolutionary processes have produced genetic advantages in these societies that underscore purely social evolution.

    In other words, not only are the poor poor because they are irrational and lazy, but also because their are genetically inferior to their rich masters.

    Therefore - and this is suggested later in the article - the reason that today's third world countries have not experienced industrial revolution and modernizations essentially amounts to the following: 1) their peoples are lazy and irrational, and 2) they do not have access to the superior rich genetic lineage that underscored the industrial revolution in England.

    Suffice it to say, the primary criticisms of the author's hypotheses by other scientists and historians is the utter lack of convincing and systematic evidence.
    • I agree. Isn't it funny that people would prefer to attribute the characteristics of the lower class to Lamarckian evolution/intentional reluctance to better themselves rather than the sociological and economic influences they were born into? Especially so when you consider that the belief that being poor is an innate genetic trait or that its intentional doesn't help things any.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pkphilip (6861)
      There is very little in the way of evidence for anything the author quotes in this so called "analysis."

      As with everything else, I am sure the reasons for the industrial revolution was far more complex than - "Rich having more kids and people going downwardly mobile".
  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:17PM (#20150291) Homepage
    The NYTimes article, not the paper itself, makes this typical leading statement: "For thousands of years, most people on earth lived in abject poverty, first as hunters and gatherers, then as peasants or laborers. But with the Industrial Revolution, some societies traded this ancient poverty for amazing affluence."

    That is false, at least as far as hunters and gatherers. See, for example:
    "The Original Affluent Society" -- by Marshall Sahlins
    http://www.eco-action.org/dt/affluent.html [eco-action.org]
    "Above all. what about the world today? One-third to one-half of humanity are said to go to bed hungry every night. In the Old Stone Age the fraction must have been much smaller. This is the era of hunger unprecedented. Now, in the time of the greatest technical power, is starvation an institution. Reverse another venerable formula: the amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture. This paradox is my whole point. Hunters and gatherers have by force of circumstances an objectively low standard of living. But taken as their objective, and given their adequate means of production, all the people's material wants usually can be easily satisfied. ...
    The world's most primitive people have few possessions. but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilisation. It has grown with civilisation, at once as an invidious distinction between classes and more importantly as a tributary relation that can render agrarian peasants more susceptible to natural catastrophes than any winter camp of Alaskan Eskimo."

    Hunter and gatherers has much more free time than most people today -- and time is also a form of wealth.
    • by dircha (893383) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:12PM (#20150743)
      "Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people."

      Responding to this quote, while from the research that has been done happiness does not seem to be significantly a function of wealth or life expectancy, concluding from this to minimize the very real hardships of poverty reduces the human experience to utilitarianism.

      I feel fairly confident in saying that the life I am privileged to is in many ways qualitatively better - though not more valuable - than the life of a member of a hunter gatherer society. How can I make this comparison? On the premise that if neutrally presented with the opportunity to benefit from many of the amenities and conveniences my life affords me, most hunter gatherers would accept the opportunity to avail themselves of these. This to me seems like the appropriate way to make this comparison.

      And this doesn't mean they would abandon their traditions and beliefs, and doesn't mean they would leave their land.

      It's simply that I surmise most would prefer to have access to modern medicine, to sanitized water, to refrigeration, to vaccinations, than to not. Now, this may not be correct, but it certainly seems to me to be a reasonable, probable hypothesis, and I suspect many would agree.

      Although I agree with you that free time is a form of wealth.
  • by MagikSlinger (259969) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:27PM (#20150361) Homepage Journal
    Sounds fishy to me. As established in many places and times, the poor compensate for infant mortality be fecundity and as things get a little better, they outnumber the rich. I'd need more proof of solid numbers that the absolute numbers of children born to poor is less than the number of children born to the not-poor.

    The ideas taking hold, on the other hand, have been noticed before, but I agree with the old-fashioned historians who say religion was responsible for that. The power of the state to enforce religious values all the way from the top to the street created a new culture, even among the poor. The king or government's incentive? A less violent population is less likely to cause problems later. Encourage the idea of non-violence in the poor and turning the other cheek, and you can avoid usurpers rallying an army or peasant-lead revolts. Encourage the ideals of hard-work to get more value of the land you own. Saving money by using the church owned banks.

    Eventually, society learns to depend on the state instead of family bonds for their security and to enforce contracts, and you start to see a modern world of high mobility and capital flow (you no longer HAD to marry the miller's daughter to get the miller to invest in your factory).
  • They are responsbile.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:06PM (#20150673) Journal
    ...colonies. So many industries destroyed in so many colonies. Weaving, spinning yarn, farmed dyes, local foundries all destroyed in the Indian sub continent, (India+Pakistan+Afghanistan+Bangaladesh+Sri Lanka+Burma). Farmers abandoning food crops to favor cash crop creating famines... London commodity traders who had knowledge about the entire world production statistics, but local farmers were farming/producing blind...

    The Industrial revolution was accompanied by untold misery to the world.

  • 2^n ancestors (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DamnStupidElf (649844) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:38PM (#20150975)
    The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages

    Everyone would have 2^n ancestors if no one ever interbred, but obviously that's not the case. My guess is that what really happened is enough people married across class, in combination with people choosing important sounding surnames for themselves, to make it appear as if a majority of English have upper class ancestors. A whole lot of people can be descended from royalty; all it takes is one or two horny princes or princesses to spread the royal genes far and wide. The poor people's genes are spread far and wide too, it's just that no one made up any fancy genealogical charts saying they were directly descended from Bob Shaftoe, mud worker in 1329. So all the evidence is selectively chosen to point to the most well known ancestors.

    I could be wrong, and maybe they somehow found all the original upper class DNA in a vault somewhere and did a conclusive study to show that most people in England share some of it, but my guess is that their result is just an improper interpretation of the fact that almost everyone is descended from almost everyone else's ancestors if you go back far enough.
  • by rtrifts (61627) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:47PM (#20151057) Homepage
    I don't buy this. At all. The methodology of reviewing old wills to glean data of child survival rates, in particular, seems quite specious and misleading.

    The decline of interest rates is better explained by a move to urbanization, move to a specie economy, and away from interest measured in bushels of grain and 2 extra chickens in the spring. The Reformation and a move away from Papal decrees against usury had a lot more to do with fractional banking and declining interest rates than sudden "thrift". I just don't buy this at all.

    Upper middle class values behind hard work? Or was it just that the only work available was in a dark satanic mill and there were no other options to avoid starvation - save leaving it all behind and heading off to the bogs and wilds of America or Canada where the saving grace was that the slaves had it worse than you did? No way. I'm not buying it - and moreover, I doubt this author has much of an acquaintance with hard physical labor. What - the medieval peasant was a layabout and the industrial middle class was hard-working? Bullshit.

    How about this explanation?

    England had unique advantages. It had an evolving class system that still made room for urban capitalists and a parliamentary and burroughs system that advanced their interests, relative to those on the Continent. It had significant geopolitical advantages with the English Channel, which allowed it the luxury of developing a superior Navy, and better navigators, explorers - all of which allowed it to increase and exploit merchant shipping - without having to be Napoleon and try to field a massive army at the same time (Which Napoleon, to his credit, almost pulled off).

    And how about this?:

    England had wrested control of the less immediately valuable land away from the French in 1759, and because it yielded beaver pelts and tabacoco - but no Treasure Ships as Spain's massive holdings supplied - England had to PLAN for Mercantilism to make any of its new holdings worth it in the long run. England's only plan was to make it grow - while Spain's land made it the Superpower of the world for 250 years. England enslaved millions of Africans to work in America - and dumped its own poor and huddled masses in North America, Australia and New Zealand during and thereafter to provide it with more economic breathing room - and Lebenseraum.

    I'd say THAT played a far greater role in escaping the Malthusian Trap than the migration of upper middle class values of "hard work". Moreover, a dumping ground for Les Miserables allowed England to progress in its political institutions without the out-and-out class based revolutions, which consumed the energies - and capital - of the French, the Hapsburgs and Prussians. Winning the Napoleonic War and thereby controlling the world and its Oceans for the next 99 years didn't hurt either.

    Grand Theories of politic-economic hegemony are hard. I'm interested enough to buy his book - but from the NYT's summation, I don't think this author is collecting the right data, interpreting the data he does collect correctly - or giving plain old dumb-luck geography, technology and institutions their due.

  • by Dunbal (464142) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @10:18PM (#20151327)
    Clark's research shows that between 1200 and 1800, the rich had more surviving children than the poor

          Well professor if you look at statistics from ANY time period, for ANY country in the world, the rich ALWAYS have more surviving children than the poor. Lack of squalor, better access to sanitation and the best available medical facilities is something the rich have always had over the "have not"'s.

          Also I'm surprised that an "economics historian" thinks you can "save" your way into an economic boom. Perhaps he also thinks he can "save" enough to retire a millionaire. Yeah good luck with that. Let's totally disregard the fact that the industrial revolution meant that the same or less quantity of workers could produce more, higher quality, and standardized products. Maximizing available resources (time being an important one) and reducing waste. THIS is where the economic growth came from.

          Why should I read this document if dear Dr. Crank doesn't even realize this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by joto (134244)

      Well professor if you look at statistics from ANY time period, for ANY country in the world, the rich ALWAYS have more surviving children than the poor.

      It's interesting you should mention that. Because it's not true of any first world country today. Also, the article mentions that it was not true for the Samurai ruling class in Japan, or the Chinese Qing-dynasty. This makes me question your ability to (a) read, (b) think, and (c) know when you've lost an argument.

      Also I'm surprised that an "economics hi

  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:21PM (#20151827)
    OK, the guy covers Japan, and sneers about the lack of uppercrust genes making their way downward to the hoi-polloi of Japanese society.

    Yet he somehow fails to mention they went from medieval backwater to global Superpower in about the same amount of time it takes a Skyline GTR to go from zero to sixty. Just ask the Russians - they might still have Czars if the Japanese hadn't kicked the crap out of the mighty Russian Imperial Navy [wikipedia.org], a scant half-century after the Black Ships [wikipedia.org] arrived. They're still a global superpower, in terms of industrial, scientific and economic influence. They were in the "Malthusan Trap" because the nobility liked it that way, and could get away with it until the advent of the steam engine. No other reason.

    So, in short, the book's crap, and just another excuse for right-wingers to justify spreading colonialism the globe over, as some sort of natural gift given to them for being better bred than the mud-people.

    SoupIsGood Food
  • by blitz487 (606553) on Wednesday August 08, 2007 @12:01AM (#20152125)
    There isn't any mystery about why some countries prosper and others stagnate. It's all about whether the economy is based on individual rights and property rights, or not. Those economies that respect and enforce rights, thrive. Those that do not, stagnate. It happens over and over, with country after country. Even China has started to prosper rapidly in the last few years. What changed? The country started respecting property rights.

    I find it pretty hard to believe that there was some sudden evolutionary change in the Chinese brain that affected a billion people overnight.

"The vast majority of successful major crimes against property are perpetrated by individuals abusing positions of trust." -- Lawrence Dalzell

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