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“unlike the sociology of the past, [this] is informed by modern economic theory”

with one comment

You don’t say… Any guesses on the unmodern economic theory that informed said sociology of the past?

Sisphyus just pointed out this NYT review/article of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms in the comments to a previous post.

Here’s where it really gets frightening:

Dr. Clark says the middle-class values needed for productivity could
have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some
passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation.
“Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial
Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern
economic world,” he writes. And, “The triumph of capitalism in the
modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or
rationality.”

Boy is that ever a heavily thudding "our" in the last sentence. You have to love it, really, and the way that it echoes the hard science cum totally asswild speculation stuff that cropped up everywhere toward the end of the nineteenth century. Thermodynamics and entropy, therefore heat death (well sure, a long, long way off), therefore a universe and its maker that agree on one point: economic equality leads to dissolute catastrophe. At least via this article, and of course we should wait for the book, it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be much to back up the genetic turn aside from a hunch and some handwaving in the genome-decoded direction.

A genetic predisposition to low interest rates, huh? Then again, maybe he’s on to something.

So yuck, yes. But I’m actually more upset at the Times than Clark himself, for an ideosyncractic reason. They have, their information design department anyway, taken Neurath’s Isotype in vain.

You can click through to see a big version of the infographic, but do you see those little guys in the middle, the second graph? Not cool – this is exactly the opposite sort of argument than the one they were, ahem, born to serve.

Written by adswithoutproducts

August 9, 2007 at 12:01 am

One Response

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  1. Ugh. I saw that Times article the other day and it made me sputteringly mad.

    He seems uninterested in the historical factors that might actually have led to capitalism; his dismissal of institutional explanations is, in the article at least, facile.

    At least Robert Brenner is quoted, however briefly, to call the evolutionary thesis “quite a speculative leap.” But somehow I doubt his own works, or that of Ellen Meiksins Wood (such as The Origin of Capitalism), get quite as much play in the Times.

    Richard

    August 9, 2007 at 6:18 pm


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