Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Brief Economic History of the World

A course on economic history using Greg Clark's book- taught by Barry Eichengreen- The Mastery of Nature:A Brief Economic History of the World
The "text" for this course is Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton University Press, 2007). We will read a portion of Clark's book every week in order to understand how economic historians think about the big issues of growth, stagnation, development and underdevelopment in the very long run. This book will be supplemented by other readings. Students will be aware that there are two kinds of textbooks. First, those in which the author purportedly suppresses his personal opinions and provides a digest of "the facts" as they are understood by scholars. Second, those in which an opinionated author alerts his readers to unsettled controversies and prompts further reflection. Clark's book is the second sort. Students should not expect to find conventional wisdom and easy answers. But those who bear with it will be stimulated to think further.


The Industrious State

In conclusion, Gregory Clark has given us a provocative work. It is economic history, but it has strong implications for contemporary problems. His quantitative techniques for demonstrating such phenomena as the innumeracy of pre-industrial humanity and the evolution of the speed of information flows are clever. However, the contest between institutional accounts of economic performance and Clark's cultural explanation is probably best resolved through a synthesis. Clark's attempt at a winner-take-all for cultural Darwinism falls short.

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