[Marxism] More on Gregory Clark

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 8 09:51:09 MDT 2007


Thanks to Phil Gasper for alerting me to another NY Times article 
(”ECONOMIC SCENE: What Makes a Nation Wealthy? Maybe It’s the Working 
Stiff“) in praise of Gregory Clark’s sociobiological bullshit. Dated 
November 2, 2006, it was written by Tyler Cowan, an economist at George 
Mason University.

Cowan believes that institutional changes will not make a difference as 
long as workers remain shiftless.

     Professor Clark’s pessimistic view is that most forms of policy 
advice or financial aid do not solve the problem of economic 
development. Unless the quality of labor rises, those would-be remedies 
are addressing symptoms, not causes.

To make sure there is no doubt about what “the quality of labor” means, 
Cowan writes:

     According to Professor Clark, the relative advantage of a highly 
disciplined and properly acculturated work force is greater for the more 
complex production processes of the modern world. Low morale and lax 
discipline will curtail simple factory production but the problem is far 
worse as production and management become more complex.

With all these shiftless natives lolling about on the factory floor, it 
will be impossible for most of the Third World to catch up. Foreign aid 
is a waste of money since the work force lacks the proper breeding to 
help it keep up to snuff.

     Paradoxically, advances in sanitation and medical care, by saving 
lives, have driven down well-being for the average person. The 
population is rising in most of sub-Saharan Africa, but living standards 
have fallen below hunter-gatherer times and 40 percent below the average 
British living standard just before the Industrial Revolution. The 
upshot is this: The problem with foreign aid is not so much corruption 
but rather that the aid brings some real benefits and enables higher 

If money or structural reform is not the answer, is there any hope at 
all? Clark believes that help is on its way, but not from the usual sources:

     It is hard to reshape workplace norms in poor countries, but in the 
modern world religious and cultural ideas spread with a hitherto 
unprecedented speed. Perhaps television and missionaries will prove more 
important for economic development than privatization plans or exchange 
rate adjustments.

There is no justice in this world, I am afraid. As Doug Henwood pointed 
out, it is criminal that Ward Churchill got fired while such nonsense is 
being spewed out.

A little digging will reveal why Tyler Cowan is so gung-ho over Clark’s 
nonsense. Both have a visceral loathing of working people. Cowan’s 
employer–George Mason University–is a notorious benefactor of 
neoconservative causes and Cowan is one of their hired guns. The NY 
Times refers readers to his website, www.marginalrevolution.com

There you will find a particularly revealing entry from August 7th 
titled “The Persistence of Poverty.” Commenting on Charles Karelis’s 
“The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can’t 
Help the Poor,” Cowan agrees with his fellow rightwing ideologue that 
the poor are self-destructive:

     Poor enough people will accept risk in the downward direction 
rather than smoothing consumption, so they buy lots of lottery tickets. 
  They also commit more crime, so they can have at least some joyous 
times, and they take lots of “stupid” chances.

     It can make more sense to give money to people on the verge of 
leaving poverty, rather than people deeply mired in poverty.  The former 
transfer will get people onto “normal” marginal utility curves, but the 
deeply poor will just squander their new wealth, as it doesn’t much 
alleviate their unhappiness.

After reading this sort of thing, I feel like taking a strong emetic.

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