Between the year zero and 1500 world population and real GDP tripled; world TFP grew by 30%; and as best as we can tell median world living standards did not grow at all. Why didn't 30% growth in TFP have any impact on living standards? How did the world economy work on a very broad scale before the industrial revolution? And why wasn't growth in TFP faster?


Writing Assignment:

Write a 200-500 essay on whether Gregory Clark was right in his claim that "the real income in Malthusian economies (all economies after 5000 B.C. and before 1800) was determined from the birth rate and death rate schedules alone." You might, as you write your essay, think about the following question: Does this mean that mankind was powerless to improve its material conditions via factors such as technology, social organization, population control, etc.?

At least 18 hours before the class--by 6 PM PST on February 2, 2010--email your paper.

Alternatively, write on the following: Was it in fact the case-as UCLA's Jared Diamond maintains-that the invention of agriculture was the worst mistake in the history of the human race? Which side of this question do you come down on-yes or no-and why? Or, if you want to suspend judgment, what additional facts about the past and present would you need to know before you would come down on one side or the other?

Thoughts and Notes:

Additional and Optional Readings:

What conclusions did Malthus draw from his "Malthusian" theory?


It is, undoubtedly, a most disheartening reflection that the great obstacle in the way to any extraordinary improvement in society is of a nature that we can never hope to overcome. The perpetual tendency in the race of man to increase beyond the means of subsistence is one of the general laws of animated nature which we can have no reason to expect will change. Yet, discouraging as the contemplation of this difficulty must be to those whose exertions are laudably directed to the improvement of the human species, it is evident that no possible good can arise from any endeavours to slur it over or keep it in the background. On the contrary, the most baleful mischiefs may be expected from the unmanly conduct of not daring to face truth because it is unpleasing. Independently of what relates to this great obstacle, sufficient yet remains to be done for mankind to animate us to the most unremitted exertion. But if we proceed without a thorough knowledge and accurate comprehension of the nature, extent, and magnitude of the difficulties we have to encounter, or if we unwisely direct our efforts towards an object in which we cannot hope for success, we shall not only exhaust our strength in fruitless exertions and remain at as great a distance as ever from the summit of our wishes, but we shall be perpetually crushed by the recoil of this rock of Sisyphus...

It is a perfectly just observation of Mr. Godwin, that, 'There is a principle in human society, by which population is perpetually kept down to the level of the means of subsistence.' The sole question is, what is this principle? is it some obscure and occult cause? Is it some mysterious interference of heaven.... Or is it a cause, open to our researches, within our view, a cause, which has constantly been observed to operate, though with varied force, in every state in which man has been placed? Is it not a degree of misery, the necessary and inevitable result of the laws of nature, which human institutions, so far from aggravating, have tended considerably to mitigate, though they never can remove?.... It seems highly probable, therefore, that an administration of property, not very different from that which prevails in civilized states at present, would be established, as the best, though inadequate, remedy for the evils which were pressing on the society...