The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy: Selected Essays

By Brinley Thomas | Go to book overview

2

THE FIRST ATLANTIC ECONOMY, 1700-76

In the first edition of Migration and Economic Growth I described the concept of the Atlantic economy of the nineteenth century in these terms:

To investigate the process of growth…it is instructive to regard the Atlantic community of nations as one economy. The long-period rise in the total real income generated in this economy necessitated various changes in the countries of which it was composed. By looking at the international movements of labour, capital and commodities as if they were interregional, we shall gain a better insight into the nature and implications of economic growth; it will also have the advantage of making us see the course of Empire settlement in its proper perspective. In the long run changes may be expected in the balance of power between the old and the new countries.

(Thomas 1954:30)

This statement is also particularly relevant to the Atlantic economy of the eighteenth century. The interaction between the centre and the periphery is even more striking in the mercantilist era when Britain had much more power relative to the colonies. There is also the interesting question of whether, as in the nineteenth century, the rhythm of growth took the form of long swings in British investment and exports which were inverse to those in the periphery.

Sceptics might object that the difference between the two centuries—monopolistic mercantilism as against competitive capitalism—rule out any basis for comparison, but there is little substance in this view. Within the weakening structure of regulations

-34-

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