On Caste and the Gentleman Class

Some 3-4 days back, I wrote a post in the Indian Economy Blog with a conjecture as to why India never got an overwhelming “gentleman class” in the way that European countries did. I forgot to cross post it here back then, so I’m doing it now.

Actually, when I posted this I wasn’t even sure if it would be appropriate for the IEB. I’m not sure even now – given that this isn’t something that is of direct consequence to the economy. Nevertheless, I thought it might be interesting to the readers of the IEB and I could concoct some kind of a connection with the Indian Economy if questioned so I put it there anyways. I’m copypasting the post here.



Writing in his latest book A Farewell To Alms UC Davis Professor Gregory Clark provides insight into the possible reasons why the English (and Europeans in general)? are on the whole considered ?gentlemanly? and more ?polished? (except while watching football, of course). Clark?s reasoning can also be extended to explain why India didn?t develop in the same fashion.

Clark writes:

The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution.




? economic success translated powerfully into reproductive success. The richest men had twice as many surviving children at death as the poorest. The poorest individuals in Malthusian England had so few surviving children that their families were dying out. Preindustrial England was thus a world of constant downward mobility. Given the static nature of the Malthusian economy, the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy in order to find work. Craftsmen?s sons became laborers, merchants? sons petty traders, large landowners? sons smallholders.

This framework possibly explains the classification of the English as ?gentlemanly?. An extremely high proportion of the population in England has its backgrounds in ?gentlemanly? famlies. Over the generations, their professions may have changed but they still retained their basic cultural traits – which were once gentlemanly.

On the same lines, one wonders why this kind of development didn?t happen in India, and the answer lies in the caste system. Given the rigid caste system here, it wasn?t possible for people to ?downshift?. Given its tight linkage with profession, what the caste system did was to freeze the proportion of various castes in the total workforce.

Hence, even if the upper caste/class people managed to produce more surviving offspring, these offspring weren?t able to migrate to other ?lesser? professions.? In other words, the survival of the fittest happened within castes. It was not until much after the industrial revolution and urbanization and the development of modern medicine, that people of different castes started professionallly competing with each other.

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