Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tales from a Monocausal Universe, pt. 2

In my previous post about Prof. Gregory Clark's forthcoming book, I set out several issues that I felt would disfavor a genetic cause of industrialization, whether cultural or biological. I had planned to write about them in depth, but alas, I haven't the time. In place of thoroughness, here is, perhaps, some brevity.

Most of my objections regard the periodization of capitalism. Prof. Clark's argument seems to focus on the pre-industrial, commercial stage of capitalism, when trade dominated. Don't get me wrong: capitalism put pressure on manufacturing to reform, but so-called proto-industry was not industry, and some would argue that was a shaky foundation for industry, at best. Industrialization was an intellectual leap, and capitalism was not deterministically bound to discover it.

Who was the Dutch Arkwright? Well, no one, of course. However, it order for Prof. Clark's argument to be effective, he must deal with "the first modern economy." Why industrialization took hold only late in Netherlands is a compelling subject. Broadly speaking, the Dutch capitalism was a high level equilibrium trap of its own (though I'll still blame wars with England); capitalism continued without making the next step.

In this context, however, the question of why Netherlands did not industrialize is not as interesting as why the Dutch did not develop industry. Prof. Clark seems to want us to believe that the emergence of genetic traits, either biologically or culturally received, created a natural evolution toward industrialization. The same traits appeared in the Dutch bourgeoisie, earlier and just as forcefully, as the English. Certainly, many of the financial tools were already in place. It would not be difficult to imagine a Dutch version of the industrial factory--it would be the Xerox Alto of economic history.

What makes the question more interesting is that regions of Europe that fell under the United Province's broad economic hinterland would next industrialize. Dutch commerce drew Belgian and Rhenish merchants into capitalism, creating classes who were willing not just to take on industry, but to innovate it.

I expect that, on closer examination, Prof. Clark will have played fast and loose with capitalism, industry and proto-industry.

Another area of concern is the effect of the downward social mobility of which Prof. Clark writes. It's not clear to me that the dispossessed sons of aristocrats and bourgeoisie would apply their superior economic ethics (if they had them) to preparing labor for industrialization. Why would they? Would they not be just as likely to apply their good sense to strengthen corporations, notably guilds, at the lower ends? It seems more likely that they would force greater skill among trades rather than lead the trend to a generalized labor force (such as Gellner described).

Tomorrow, Prof. Clark promises to answer his critics. I look forward to his detailed answers.

17 Comments:

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