Thus the average person in the world of 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 BC. Indeed in 1800 the bulk of the world’s population was poorer than their remote ancestors. The lucky denizens of wealthy societies such as eighteenth century England or the Netherlands managed a material lifestyle equivalent to that of the Stone Age. But the vast swath of humanity in East and South Asia, particularly in China and Japan, eked out a living under conditions probably significantly poorer than those of cavemen.
–Gregory Clark A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World p.1
I’m reading this book now and it puts forth the very intriguing thesis that the Industrial Revolution (which is when humans finally broke through the Malthusian Trap detailed in the quotation) took place due to higher levels of reproduction among the higher English classes (higher survival rates as well) which was selected for in the population, bringing “down” in the class hierarchy the cultural attitudes necessary to a capitalist society. I think he overplays this line as the most determinative factor (underplaying say the rule of law, private property, etc.) but it’s a brilliant text nonetheless.