In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond suggested that geography, botany, and zoology were destiny. Europe and Asia pressed ahead economically, and remained ahead to the present day, because of accidents of geography. They had the kinds of animals that could be domesticated, and the orientation of the Eurasian land mass allowed domesticated plants and animals to spread easily between societies. But there is a gaping lacuna in his argument. In a modern world in which the path to riches lies through industrialization, why are bad-tempered zebras and hippos the barrier to economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa? Why didn’t the Industrial Revolution free Africa, New Guinea, and South America from their old geographic disadvantages, rather than accentuate their backwardness? And why did the takeover of Australia by the British propel a part of the world that had not developed settled agriculture by 1800 into the first rank among developed economies?
Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: a Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton, 2007. pp. 13-14
[T]he case of Chile seems to underscore a theme of earlier chapters: social and political movements have a surprisingly modest effect on the rate of social mobility. Events that at the time seem crucial, powerful, and critical determinants of the fate of societies leave astonishingly little imprint in the objective records of social mobility rates. Allende tried to remake Chilean society and died bravely when the military intervened to destroy his dream. Thousands were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered under Pinochet’s brutal military regime. But if social mobility rates were the only record of the history of Chile in the past hundred years, we would detect no trace of these events. Despite the cries, the suffering, the outrage, and the struggle, social mobility continued its slow shuffle toward the mean, indifferent to the events that so profoundly affected the lives of individual Chileans.
Gregory Clark, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility, Princeton, New Jersey, 2014, p. 211
Since we are for the most part the descendants of the strivers of the pre-industrial world, those driven to achieve greater economic success than their peers, perhaps these findings reflect another cultural or biological heritage from the Malthusian era. The contented may well have lost out in the Darwinian struggle that defined the world before 1800. Those who were successful in the economy of the Malthusian era could well have been driven by a need to have more than their peers in order to be happy. Modern man might not be designed for contentment. The envious have inherited the earth.
Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Princeton, 2007, p. 16