Tuesday, September 11, 2007

 

Wealthy Families Spawned Industrial Revolution Argues Historian

Fascinating article in Daily Telegraph last week about the origins of the industrial revolution. This explains the work of Scottish Professor Gregory Clark, now at California University. He observes that despite pre-industrial advances in agriculture, boosting crop yields, population could not rise above a certain level because of limited resources kept survival rates of children at a low level: the so-called 'Malthusian Trap'. He argues that high survival rates were only sustained in richer families, concluding that:

wealth, not social status or literacy, was the best predictor of the number of surviving children. Overall, the rich were leaving twice as many children as the poor. Survival of the fittest here meant survival of the richest. He argued that this meant downward social mobility, as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the rich produced surplus children who were then forced to take over the occupations of the poor.

Thus the children of wealthier families were forced, through the low survival rates of less wealthy families, to 'slide down the social hierarchy to find work, bringing with them bourgeois values' This means that 'today's population is descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages'. Values like hard work, patience and peacefulness permeated society, encouraging the acquisition of skills and literacy. He goes on to add a genetic layer to his thesis suggesting that through the 'middle class' gene pool being handed down:

'people were better mentally equipped to learn about and accept mechanisation. This resulted in a more organised society and more efficient methods of production. So, in the centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was genetically adapting to the modern world.

Why didn't the revolution start in the much larger populations of Japan or China? Because, says Clark, their elites had only small numbers of children, meaning they failed to generate 'the downward social mobility which lit the blue touch paper to the Industrial Revolution'. Moreover, early English society was unusually stable during these years: 'In most English villages, nothing happened from 1200 to 1800' thus encouraging the 'survival of the richest not the fiercest.' I'm not so sure I buy that 'nothing happened' bit. What about the Black Death, Wars of the Roses and the Civil War? Scarcely 'nothing' I'd suggest, but the argument that its the values and genes of the wealthy stratum of Middle Ages England which has transformed the world, is intriguing, controversial and worthy of consideration.

Comments:
Mmmmm. This theory sounds highly speculative Skipper. True of some. Idiotic in regards to many others. High infant death rates perhaps but much higher fecundity surely? Partly to compensate. Working class survicors very strong. Middle class typically invalids. (See Lady Chatterley's Lover). The richer died of different things and - taking Merchant Ivory and viccie literature as a guide - seemed to be beset by tragedy and infertility.
 
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