A Farewell to Alms (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
The title of Gregory Clark’s ambitious work of economic history, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, may be a little misleading for its potential readers. Those seeking a short chronological account of the world economy will not find it here. Instead, Clark’s goal is to account for the transformation of economies that began about the year 1800 and to explain how this transformation resulted in contemporary inequalities in development among the nations of the world.
Before 1800, according to Clark, incomes and standards of living varied across historical periods, geographic locations, and social classes, but there was no general upward movement. Greater social differentiation may have made lives better for the rich and worse for the poor. Sometimes, a relatively more equal distribution of income may have led to better situations for the least advantaged. The average standard of living, though, remained the same from prehistory to the beginning of the modern era. Clark argues that the reason for this long economic stagnation was the Malthusian trap.
In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus published a book on population in which he argued that human populations have a tendency to expand to the point at which their environments will no longer support them. When more food becomes available, the population will simply increase to consume the surplus. Under such a situation, there is no improvement of the overall economic...
(The entire section is 1875 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
Business Economics 42, no. 4 (October, 2007): 74-75.
The Economist 384 (August 18, 2007): 74-75.
Library Journal 132, no. 14 (September 1, 2007): 145.
The Nation 285, no. 18 (December 3, 2007): 28-32.
The New York Review of Books 54, no. 18 (November 22, 2007): 38-41.
The New York Times Book Review 157 (December 9, 2007): 21.
(The entire section is 34 words.)