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Carter King
Carter King

I Am Extremely Excited To Be Living In This Moment, As The New Industrial Revolution’s Gears Begin

In the last decade the gradualist perspective has appeared to triumph. In economic history it has done so largely because of a preoccupation with growth accounting at the expense of more broadly based conceptualizations of economic change. New statistics have been produced which illustrate the slow growth of industrial output and gross domestic product. Productivity grew slowly; fixed capital proportions, savings, and investment changed only gradually; workers' living standards and their personal consumption remained largely unaffected before 1830 and were certainly not squeezed. The macroeconomic indicators of industrial and social transformation were not present and so the notion of industrial revolution has been dethroned almost entirely leaving instead only a long process of structural change in employment from agrarian to non-agrarian occupations. (Berg and Hudson 1992, pp. 24-5).

I Am Extremely Excited To Be Living In This Moment, As The New Industrial Revolution’s Gears Begin


Thank you for this excellent summary. It would be interesting to know how these historians understand the change in patterns of consumption during the first industrial revolution. How is the change in daily life among the working poor connected to the way a "thin grey line of modern industry did just enough to maintain Britons at a tolerable standard of living." Jan de Vries isn't mentioned here, and I'm not competent to summarize, but _The Industrious Revolution_ could be another angle.

The British industrial revolution was a landmark event in world economic history. While it was once seen as a period of dramatic \u2018take-off\u2019, it is now generally accepted that it was an episode of gradual acceleration in labour productivity growth which eventually led to sustained increases in living standards (Crafts 2021, p. 1).

In short, if we look beyond the economic statistics\u2014if we follow Berg and Hudson in discarding output as our yardstick\u2014we can find out how the Revolution was revolutionary. I have three propositions. First, we should remember that this was an \u201Cindustrial,\u201D not an \u201Ceconomic\u201D revolution. Industry was transformed, slowly but inexorably, from small-scale handicraft (which persisted, no doubt, but residually) to mechanized factory production. And a growing share of the population moved out of agriculture and into that increasingly-recognizable branch of manufacturing\u2014from 33.9 percent in 1759 to 45.6 percent in 1851. The Industrial Revolution was, in this sense, a rhetorical analog of the French Revolution\u2014industry seized control from the economic ancien regime.

Finally, we need not discard the immediate welfare consequences of early British industrialization. Soaring population growth in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries threatened the island with a Malthusian demographic catastrophe. Crafts believes that even the slow growth of the eighteenth century may have had significant positive consequences: \u201Cif the acceleration of population growth was exogenous rather than a consequence of the industrial revolution, then it would be reasonable to argue that the industrial revolution averted a collapse of living standards. In that case, the working class benefited much sooner than Feinstein allowed\u201D (Crafts 2021, p. 20). Without an Industrial Revolution, Mokyr reasons that GDP per capita in Britain could have been twenty percent lower in 1830 than in 1760. The thin grey line of modern industry did just enough to maintain Britons at a tolerable standard of living, and provided a launchpad for future improvement.


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