Friday, August 24, 2007

Join Tyler Cowen's Online Debate on Greg Clark's 'Farewell to Alms'

Over at Marginal revolution (here) , Tyler Cowen is conducting an open comments session on Greg Clark’s new book, about to be published by Princeton University Press, ‘A Farewell to Alms’ and it is drawing a large number of comments from serious people about the book’s unique thesis, that by 1800 the per capita living (food intake) standards were no higher in Britain than 10,000 years ago, but fairly quickly, they shot ahead, first in Britain and then in Europe and North America.

Clark’s book is about showing this (pages 1-112) and then (rest of his book) why it happened and what this meant for the world (technology, globalisation, poverty and wealth, etc.,).

Tyler is also doing this in stages, so for this week it is pages 1 to 112, with a strict embargo on comments going beyond the prescribed sections so that discussion will be focussed. And it is.

I read through the comments today and found them most interesting; naturally, I did not agree with all of them, and the author, Greg Clark, also joins in making small points, so as not to cramp the debate (and it is turning into a real debate; like being in a high-level seminar).

Here are Tyer Cowen’s rules:

Ground rules for 'tomorrow's' MR BookForum

1. Be even more polite than usual.
2. Relate your points to Greg Clark's book as much as possible. This is a forum on his book.
3. You are engaging the book, and if you end up in a running back and forth with another commentator, the odds that you are producing a public good are no more than p = 0.21.
4. Comments which "leap ahead" and focus on later parts of the book, beyond the specified pages, will be deleted, no matter how brilliant.

A Taster: A Farewell to Alms, pp.1-112
Tyler Cowen

To start the book Greg lays out his central claim that most of human history can be explained by a Malthusian model. By this he means that changes in birth and death rates are the means of changing the real wage in the long run. He also suggests it is very hard to raise living standards in the long run, again short of leaving Malthusian conditions, as England later did.

These pages contain some of the book's most important material. If Clark is right, one relatively simple model can explain a great deal of human history.
From reading his book, I've upped my attachment to the Malthusian model from p = 0.2 to p = 0.37; that's a big shift and it's to Clark's credit. But I am still not convinced or even at p = 0.5, and here is why...

For the rest of Tyler’s comments and the debate, including Greg Clark's comments, you must visit Marginal Revolution. It’s the best read you’ll get in Blogland on this subject.

I shall add my comment later this weekend, after I get to France.


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