Saturday, September 01, 2007

Memes or genes?

This has been a good reading year. Many of my recent blogs have mentioned new books that have been particularly enjoyable and worthy.

Many bloggers and reviewers have recently commented on Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms. I find it provocative, original (as far as I can tell) and masterfully argued.

"... since the Industrial Revolution we have entered a strange new
world in which the rococo embellishments of economic theory help little in
understanding the pressing questions that the ordinary person asks of economics:
Why are some rich and some poor? In the future will we be among the lucky? In
this book I have suggested ways in which the Malthusian era, through
differential survival of individuals, can predict success or failure for modern
societies, and also predicts a continuing future of economic growth." (p. 372)

Is it genes or memes? Is it culture or institutions? The now famous comparisons between (formerly) East and West Germany, North and South Korea, Taiwan and (formerly) Communist China were convenient and clear ways to cut through the culture vs. institutions riddle. But Clark argues for cultural differences as well as how and why they matter to the economic growth puzzle.

The book should launch a bundle of dissertations. One can only hope that the market for academic economists will not divert bright young scholars away from the project.