Claim of the Day

Over the long run income is more powerful than any ideology or religion in shaping lives. No God has commanded worshippers to their pious duties more forcefully than income as it subtly directs the fabric of our lives.

I agree, which is why Virginia’s right, and the main debate really is between dynamists, who want growth and the transformations is inevitably creates, and stasist, who don’t. The quotation, by the way, is from Gregory Clark’s forthcoming book Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. This a profoundly insightful work sure to raise ire and inspire further progress. Key claim: labor quality is the difference between rich and poor. Depressing claim: Sub-Saharan Africa has largely Malthusian conditions, so success in increasing health and life-spans has decreased the average material standard of living below hunter-gatherer levels. Biggest disappointment: seems evasive on the question of the cause of variations in labor quality. Why not culture? 

Well, in Clark’s contribution to the Cato Unbound discussion of the relative importance of policy, culture, and institutions in economic development, he wrote:  

… attempts to introduce culture into economic discussions so far have been generally either ad hoc, vacuous, blatantly false, or void of testability. If culture is a key to growth, the fear is that economists will be reduced to rooting about in the intellectual undergrowth with people we hold in low esteem: qualitative sociologists and cultural anthropologists. Since we have no idea of how cultures develop, or how to change cultures, to admit the primacy of culture may be to admit the defeat of the entire economics project.

It is not surprising, then, that he does not admit the primacy of culture. I’m with my old Mercatus colleague Pete Boettke on this one.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center