Skip to main content

In defense of the Malthusian interpretation of history


The four reviews make the following major criticisms of the book: (1)

A Farewell to Alms assumes one important revolution in economic history, the Industrial Revolution. In reality there were two, with the Neolithic Revolution of equal importance (George Grantham).


World income levels did rise between the Stone Age and 1800 (Gunnar Persson, Hans-Joachim Voth).


The Malthusian model has been shown to be inapplicable to pre-industrial Europe (Grantham, Persson).


The claim of ‘survival of the richest’ is just the revival of discredited and dangerous social Darwinism? (Deirdre McCloskey).


There was no Darwinian selection for ‘bourgeois characteristics’ in the pre-industrial world of settled, institutionally stable agrarian societies (McCloskey).


The recent growth of India and China, and the experience of immigrants to the USA, easily refute the view that survival of the richest had any impact (McCloskey).


The ideas of A Farewell to Alms are not new, merely uncredited borrowings from others (McCloskey, Persson, Voth).

Hide All
Allen, R. C. (2001). The great divergence in European wages and prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War. Explorations in Economic History 38 (4), pp. 411–48.
Bar-Yosef, O. (2002). The upper Paleolithic Revolution. Annual Review of Anthropology 31, pp. 363–93.
Bersaglieri, T., Sabeti, P. C., Patterson, N. et al. (2004). Genetic signatures of strong recent positive selection at the lactase gene. American Journal of Human Genetics 74 (6), pp. 1,1111,120.
Boulton, J. (2000). Food prices and the standard of living in London in the ‘century of revolution’, 1580–1700. Economic History Review 53, pp. 455–92.
Bowles, S. (2007). Genetically capitalist? Science 318, pp. 394–5.
Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. (2002). The inheritance of inequality. Journal of Economic Perspectives 16 (3), pp. 330.
Bjorklund, A., Jantti, M. and Solon, G. (2003). Influences of nature and nurture on earnings variation: a report on a study of various sibling types in Sweden. In Bowles, S., Gintis, H. and Osborne, M. (eds.), Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Bjorklund, A., Jantti, M. and Solon, G. (2007). Nature and nurture in the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status: evidence from Swedish children and their biological and rearing parents. The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 7 (2) (Advances), Article 4.
Carlos, A. and Lewis, F. D. (2008). Indians, the beaver and the bay. Book manuscript. Queen's University.
Carlos, A., Lewis, F. D. and MacDonald, A. C. (2007). Nutrition and the standard of living in the mid-eighteenth century: a comparison of natives in the Canadian Sub-Arctic and Europeans. Manuscript, Queen's University.
Clark, G. (2005). The condition of the working-class in England, 1209–2004. Journal of Political Economy 113 (6), pp. 1307–40.
Clark, G. (2007a). A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Clark, G. (2007b). Farm wages, population and economic growth, England, 1209–1869. Economic History Review 60 (1), pp. 97135.
Cosmides, L. and Tooby, J. (1997). Evolutionary psychology: a primer. UCSB.
Diamond, J. M. (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. New York: Norton.
Falconer, D. S. (1981). Introduction to Quantitative Genetics. 2nd edn. London: Longman.
Galor, O. and Moav, O. (2002). Natural selection and the origin of economic growth. Quarterly Journal of Economics 117, pp. 1133–91.
Galor, O. and Weil, D. N. (2000). Population, technology and growth: from Malthusian stagnation to the demographic transition and beyond. American Economic Review 90, pp. 806–28.
Glasse, R. M. (1968). Huli of Papua: A Cognate Descent System. Paris: Mouton and Co.
Goldsmith, R. W. (1984). An estimate of the size and structure of the national product of the early Roman Empire. Review of Income and Wealth 30 (3), pp. 263–88.
Habakkuk, H. J. (1952). The long-term rate of interest and the price of land in the seventeenth century. Economic History Review 5 (1), pp. 2645.
Harlt, D. L. (1985). Our Uncertain Heritage: Genetics and Human Diversity. New York: Harper and Row.
Hawks, J., Wang, E. T., Cochran, G., Harpending, H. C. and Moyzis, R. K. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (52), pp. 20,753–8.
Ishikawa, S. S. and Raine, A. (2002). Behavioral genetics and crime. In Glicksohn, J. (ed.), The Neurobiology of Criminal Behavior. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 81110.
Lee, R. (1987). Population dynamics of human and other animals. Demography 24, pp. 443–65.
Loehlin, J. C. (2005). Resemblance in personality and attitudes between parents and their children: genetic and environmental contributions. In Bowles, S., Gintis, H. and Groves, M. (eds.), Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 192207.
McCloskey, D. N. (1981). The Industrial Revolution 1780–1860: a survey. In Flood, R. and McCloskey, D. N. (eds.), The Economic History of Britain, 1700–Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vol. 1, pp. 103–27.
McCloskey, D. N. and Nash, J. (1984). Corn at interest: the extent and cost of grain storage in medieval England. American Economic Review 74, pp. 174–87.
Maddison, A. (2001). The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. Paris: OECD.
Maddison, A. (2003). The World Economy: Historical Statistics. Paris: Development Centre Studies, OECD.
Mednick, S. A., Gabrielli Jr, W. F. and Hutchings, B. (1984). Genetic influences in criminal convictions: evidence from an adoption cohort. Science 224 (4651), pp. 891–4.
Milanovic, B. (2006). An estimate of average income and inequality in Byzantium around year 1000. Review of Income and Wealth 52 (3), pp. 449–70.
Neumann, M. (1865). Geschichte des Wuchers in Deutschland bis zur Begründung der heutigen Zinsengesetze (1654). Halle: Verlag der Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses.
Phelps Brown, H. and Hopkins, S. V. (1981). A Perspective of Wage and Prices. London: Methuen.
Rappaport, S. (1989). Worlds Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth-Century London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Solon, G. (1999). Intergenerational mobility in the labor market. In Ashenfelter, Orley C. and Card, David (eds.), Handbook of Labor Economics, vol. 3A. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Sillitoe, P. (1978). Big men and war in New Guinea. Man 13 (2), pp. 252–71.
Stiner, M. C., Munro, N. D., Surovell, T. A., Tchernov, E. and Bar-Yosef, O. (1999). Paleolithic population growth pulses evidenced by small animal exploitation. Science, ns, 283 (5399), pp. 190–4.
Voigtländer, N. and Voth, H.-J. (2006). Why England? Demographic factors, structural change and physical capital accumulation during the Industrial Revolution. Journal of Economic Growth 11, pp. 319–61.
Voth, H.-J. (2001). Time and Work in England, 1750–1830. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Review of Economic History
  • ISSN: 1361-4916
  • EISSN: 1474-0044
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed