Darwinian Evolution Connected To The Industrial Revolution?

August 7, 2007 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

One of the unresolved economic arguments of the Conceptual Age is the cause of the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the early 1800s and why not all countries in the world evolved economically after that.  Even sub-Saharan Africa was on pretty even terms with the rest of the world economically as of 1800.

Economic historian Dr. Gregory Clark, from the University of California-Davis has proposed that changes in the nature of human populations were the main reasoning behind the revolution.

Interestingly the theory is strongly connected to Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The connection lies in a 1798 work by Thomas Malthus from which the theory of natural selection was inspired.  Malthus believed that every time a new technology was introduced to a human population, the overall population would increase thus offsetting any benefits of technological development relegating humanity to a perpetual subsistence economy.  Clark analyzed the wills of English men starting around the year 1600 and concluded that men with higher incomes tended to have more surviving children than men with lower incomes.  Apparently, as a wealthier upper class began to outpopulate the lower income population, violence decreases and literacy increased.  These changes, combined with an apparent willingness on the part of the new population to work long hours and save more, led to the Industrial Revolution as gains in production efficiency outpaced population growth for the first time.

 The connection to natural selection is quite apparent with the original Malthusian trap of being permanently in a subsistence economy due to population growth outpacing increases in production efficiency and then the gradual move toward the Industrial Revolution as the wealthier upper class began to overshadow the population of the lower income class due to the wealthier having more surviving children.  For a full write-up and explanation, read today’s NYTimes.com article by Nicolas Wade, “In Dusty Archives, A Theory of Affluence“.

My question is if Clark’s theory is too narrow-minded?  Is natural selection really the reason behind the suffering in some of the poorest nations in the world today.  There are many sound economic arguments that make much more sense than Clark’s, but none are widely accepted as being absolutely correct.

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Entry filed under: business, Story, Symphony, Thoughts.

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