Thursday, August 09, 2007

Max Weber meets Richard Dawkins

Oh, fer crying out loud. I am supposed to be doing other things right now (finishing the conclusion to my dissertation, ahem), so if one of you has a few moments to spare, would you care to offer a concise critique of this absurd article from the New York Times? It argues that the reason so much wealth and power is concentrated in the rich countries of the world is that capitalist genes spread through their populations by ca 1800. *This* is the "world history" that gets popular coverage. Sheesh.


Ambivalent_Maybe said...

Though the article is trying to hype this study, it does make clear that this theory is basically Weber with a little genetics thrown in to make it more contemporary (and to win coverage in the NY Times!). The whole idea is ludicrous. (A gene for a behavior as complex as capitalism? Evolution operating on such a small timescale?) And somehow the author of the article thinks that because this is coming from an economic historian it should be taken more seriously? Good grief. It's all too ridiculous.

I suppose Regnery is already cranking out some 'how to breed a capitalist' guide. But then that will conflict with one of the GOP/FOX's recent trial memes: that progressives are all secretly waiting to brink back eugenics.

christian_left said...
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christian_left said...

I'm waiting to read the book (which I am approaching with a huge amount of skepticism, especially as someone familiar with the usual tendentious assumptions made by economic historians), but in the meantime, let me quote one line from the NYT review and give a brief comment:

"The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save emerged only recently in human history, Dr. Clark argues."

I'd give present-day American society a 1.5 out of 4 (for the long working hours and some valuing of literacy, though the low reading rates, especially among Bush and other elites, suggest I may be too generous...)

So maybe we're losing those great capitalist genes after all. And it's not because the elites are being out-bred: on the contrary, as I suggested above Bush and others seem at least as illiterate, violent, and willing to mortgage our future as any mythical "underclass" that a conservative commentator might conjure up.

thirdpartydreamer said...

Thanks! Yes, you've hit on the things that irritated me the most about the review (not having read the book, I can't say whether it's a fair review or not): the simplistic appeal to genes, our favorite non-explanation explanation; and the implication that rich people are more virtuous than poor people. That, for example, they save more because saving is a behavior they value more, rather than just because they won't go hungry if they do.