Who is Nicholas Wade?

So I just found out about Nicholas Wade, although a brief Google search will show that he belongs with Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (the Bell Curve), Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele (Race the reality of Human differences), as well as the company of Arthur Jensen.

I have not read Wade’s book, which was roundly condemned by 144 different scholars. https://cehg.stanford.edu/letter-from-population-geneticists



But I did read his article in Time magazine. http://time.com/91081/what-science-says-about-race-and-genetics/

It has the kinds of statements you would expect. In one paragraph Wade claims that there is no “real” biological evidence that Caucasians are racially gifted free thinkers and East Asians are doomed to be conformists. Then he turns around and says “But there is almost certainly a genetic component to the propensity for following society’s rules and punishing those who violate them. If Europeans were slightly less inclined to punish violators and Chinese slightly more so, that could explain why European societies are more tolerant of dissenters and innovators, and Chinese societies less so.”

The riddle of the Industrial Revolution

But the true genius of his article comes in the part where he is unable to explain why the Caucasian race (the Europeans) experienced the industrial revolution. He explains that progress seemed impossible because of the Malthusian trap. “In his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that each time productivity improved and food became more plentiful, more infants survived to maturity, and the extra mouths ate up the surplus. Within a generation, everyone was back to living just above starvation level.”

Wade follows this summary with an interesting observation “Malthus, strangely enough, wrote his essay at the very moment when England, shortly followed by other European countries, was about to escape from the Malthusian trap. The escape consisted of such a substantial increase in production efficiency that extra workers enhanced incomes instead of constraining them. This development, known as the Industrial Revolution, is the salient event in economic history, yet economic historians say they have reached no agreement on how to account for it.”

Wade considers many possible explanations including: Europeans controlled their sex drives through late marriages, “English democracy, secure property rights, the development of competitive markets, or patents that stimulated invention.” Wade also cites the advances of the enlightenment and rather hauntingly hints at the “easy availability of capital

Yet he ultimately dismisses all of these options in favor of a theory advanced by economist Gregory Clark, which basically claims that the English were simply genetically primed for it. “Clark has documented four behaviors that steadily changed in the English population between 1200 and 1800, as well as a highly plausible mechanism of change. The four behaviors are those of interpersonal violence, literacy, the propensity to save, and the propensity to work.” These behaviors were passed on in the rich, since the rich were able to have more surviving children than the poor. Yet as the rich fell from grace they took their noble habits with them down into the lower class thus improving the whole British society through several hundred years of good behavior. “In a broader sense, these changes in behavior were just some of many that occurred as the English population adapted to a market economy. Markets required prices and symbols and rewarded literacy, numeracy, and those who could think in symbolic ways.” Again Wade almost manages to figure it out, he is so incredibly close the fact that he misses the point is almost impossible to figure out.

Wade ends his discussion of this strange mystery by explaining the following:
“But contrary to Malthus’s gloomy prediction of a population crash induced by vice and famine, which would have been true at any earlier stage of history, incomes on this occasion rose, heralding the first escape of an economy from the Malthusian trap.” Indeed Wade argues that the British owed the industrial revolution to their great economic success and to their advanced social and moral habits of controlling their violence against each other, increased literacy, the propensity to save, and the propensity to work.

Wait what else were the British up to?

Remarkably Wade seems entirely ignorant of British Colonialism, imperialism, and the driving economic boom which made this colonialism possible.

Indeed the British had made some rather successful colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, just prior to their great economic boom. Of course Wade dismissed all of these things earlier, and my goal here is not to argue that those dismissed factors were the true cause of British Industrial supremacy.

My goal here is to ask…what were the British doing from about the mid 16th century till they outlawed it in the early 19th century?

Did anyone say the Slave Trade?

“The exact number of British ships that took part in the Slave Trade will probably never be known but, in the 245 years between Hawkins first voyage and the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807, merchants in Britain despatched about 10,000 voyages to Africa for slaves, with merchants in other parts of the British Empire perhaps fitting out a further 1,150 voyages. Historian, Professor David Richardson, has calculated that British ships carried 3.4 million or more enslaved Africans to the Americas. Only the Portuguese, who carried on the trade for almost 50 years after Britain had abolished its Slave Trade, carried more enslaved Africans to the Americas than the British (the most recent estimate suggests just over 5 million people).” http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_45.html

Indeed slavery was essential to the incredibly economically successful venture of British colonization and agriculture in the Americas.

The fact is that the slave trade, as well as slavery itself in the British colonies, accounted for an incredible economic boom in the British economy. A boom which can be used to explain what Wade missed.

Wade talked about the strange case of “easy availability of capital”. For no apparent reason near the end of the 18th century Britain just seemed to have a surplus of wealth for investment and economic enterprises. Where did it all come from? From their most successful economic venture, Slavery.

Wade also wrote about how the industrial revolution was simply the result of England’s adaptation to a market economy. “Markets required prices and symbols and rewarded literacy, numeracy, and those who could think in symbolic ways.” In fact it is utterly essential to enslaving and dehumanizing of others that one be able to think in symbolic ways and focus strictly on prices and symbols. The sheer brutality of having to enslave another human being would not be tolerable unless you had the abstract thinking to distance yourself from the activity behind a veneer of economic symbolism.

As a case in point here of the symbolic language involved in slavery is the case of the Zong Massacre in 1781. The crew of the British slave ship the Zong intentionally drowned between 132 and 142 slaves in order to claim the insurance money on them. http://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=373&Itemid=236

“When the case was heard before Chief Lord Justice Mansfield, eminent counsel, notably the solicitor general John Lee argued vigorously that the killings were not a matter of murder or morality but solely involved a question of property and insurance:
‘What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew. To question the judgement of an experienced well-travelled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves. The case is the same as if wood had been thrown overboard.”

All in all though my case rests on the notion that the slave trade had an appreciable effect on the British economy. Since Wade seems to be wholly ignorant of the slave trade (sarcasm yes, but his silence is troubling) we can only assume he thought it had no impact on bringing about the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution and Slavery

Wade’s ignorance is not shared by many of his colleagues.

“The Caribbean Historian Eric Williams asserts: ‘It was this tremendous dependence on the triangular trade that made Manchester’.

Manchester merchants made big profits at the expense of exploited labour at home and abroad. These merchants were involved in all three sides of the triangle. They bought cotton imported from the southern slavery states of America. They provided finished cottons in exchange for enslaved Africans. They also provided clothing for the enslaved workers on the plantations.

As Robin Blackburn put it: ‘The pace of capitalist advance in Britain was decisively advanced by its success in creating a regime of extended private accumulation battening upon the super-exploitation of slaves in the Americas’.”


C. Knick Harley summarizes his own essay Slavery, the British Atlantic Economy and the Industrial Revolution by writing that “Modern economic growth first emerged in Britain about the time of the Industrial Revolution, with its cotton textile factories, urban industrialization and export orientated industrialization. A period of economic growth, industrial diversification and export orientation preceded the Industrial Revolution. This export orientation revolved around an Americanization of British trade for which the slave colonies of the Caribbean were central.” Though Harley ultimately concludes that the trade itself was not sufficient to start the Industrial Revolution, he also concedes that it was necessary, quite simply because British colonization would have been nearly impossible without it.


Indeed although the more conservative Economists will note that the Industrial revolution was the result of a complex series of many different events and factors, they do all agree that slavery was a major contributor. Some, like Harley, speculate that this economic boom would have been possible without slavery and simply depending on colonialism. Though that would seem to ignore that colonialism always involves slavery, if not the importing of outside slaves then at least the enslavement of the native populations.

So in the end if it wasn’t slavery then it was definitely colonialism which made the industrial revolution possible. Then let us not forget that colonialism was only possible in parts of the world where the British could strong arm the population into accepting British Rule (India and China) or in parts of the world where the native populations could be enslaved or annihilated (The Americas).

In any case Wade is wrong, and strangely ignorant of how important racism was to British racial superiority. Then again, maybe he knows exactly what he is doing when he discusses how the advanced morality of the British (well at least to each other) made their global domination assured.