Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 8, 2007

More on Gregory Clark

Filed under: economics — louisproyect @ 3:48 pm

Tyler Cowan: agrees with Gregory Clark that working class
shiftlessness is the cause of poverty

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 populations.

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.


  1. Gotta love these folks who know about being part of the working poor even though they’ve never held a real job in their miserable lives and couldn’t handle it if they did.

    After reading this sort of thing, I feel like going postal on these @#$%^&*$#@ers.

    Comment by Binh — August 8, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  2. My sentiments also. I keep thinking about my parents, who made one shitty choice after another based upon their blind faith in what people like these idiots are always spouting.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux Perez — August 8, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

  3. This goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun. Forty years ago, Edward Banfield was writing some sort of drek like his The Unheavenly City.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — August 9, 2007 @ 12:14 am

  4. […] Louis Proyect exposes Gregory Clark Tyler Cowan: agrees with Gregory Clark that working class shiftlessness is the cause of poverty […]

    Pingback by Darwiniana » Clark exposed: a ‘visceral loathing of working class people’ — August 9, 2007 @ 2:56 am

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