Last month I (belatedly) read Gregory Clark’s, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.
One of the key assertions in Clark’s important book is that the industrial revolution occurred in England after 1800 because the English underwent a gradual transformation of their behavior and manners in the period before 1800. Among other changes, the English became notably more peaceable in their daily interactions.
My current audiobook is James Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Johnson was born in 1709, died in 1784. On the elliptical machine this morning, I heard this passage, Boswell quoting Johnson:
‘In the last age, when my mother lived in London, there were two sets of people, those who gave the wall, and those who took it; the peaceable and the quarrelsome. When I returned to Lichfield, after having been in London, my mother asked me, whether I was one of those who gave the wall, or those who took it. NOW it is fixed that every man keeps to the right; or, if one is taking the wall, another yields it; and it is never a dispute.’
“Taking the wall” refers to walking alongside the buildings on a street. That would be the desirable side because more protected from the dirt of the gutters. In the 17th century, the issue of who got that side was settled by the threat of force. By the time Boswell knew Johnson, the issue was settled by tacit agreement. Score one for the Clark thesis.