Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A brief and preliminary review of The Son also Rises by Gregory Clark


Gregory Clark. The son also rises: surnames and the history of social mobility. Princeton University Press, 2014.

In one word: disappointing.

In one sense this was inevitable, given that I regarded Clark's previous book (A Farewell to Alms - FtA) as a work of genius. Nonetheless, The Son also Rises (SaR) is disappointing in a disappointing way.

Whereas the facts and figures of FtA were structured by an underlying clear, explicit, comprehensible theoretical underpinning; the SaR reads like a compendium of new data - as-if a linked collection of papers. It includes a lot of empirical analysis - but the theoretical and explanatory basis seems either over-complex or muddled.

Also, the 'normative' or ethical concern over the good-ness or bad-ness of social mobility is intrusive and distracting - indeed, I regard this normative/ethical prominence as the main reason for the unclarity of the books theoretic basis.

Of course there is a lot of very interesting piecemeal data and analysis, evidence of a lot of hard work and thinking; but in the end the SaR is less than the sum of its parts.

What do I take-away from the SaR, so far (given that there are some of the inner sections I have not yet read - and may never read)?

Well, what I take-away from this book is that the whole topic of 'social mobility' is a stupid subject, a pseudo-discourse, a false frame for analysis, and (most of all) a fake ethical principle.

Therefore, given the astonishing abilities of Gregory Clark - a man who operates at an intellectual level far above my own - what I want is for him to try again with this mass of data.

What I would most like to see is that Clark set aside the whole 'social mobility' garbage - and instead present an honest, clear and explicit causal analysis, based upon a sufficiently simple and lucid and coherent theoretical basis.