The Industrial Revolution, 1760-1830

By T. S. Ashton | Go to book overview
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The Course of Economic Change

THE industrial revolution is to be thought of as a movement, not as a period of time. Whether it presents itself in England after 1760, in the United States and Germany after 1870, or in Canada, Japan, and Russia in our own day, its character and effects are fundamentally the same. Everywhere it is associated with a growth of population, with the application of science to industry, and with a more intensive and extensive use of capital. Everywhere there is a conversion of rural into urban communities and a rise of new social classes. But in each case the course of the movement has been affected by circumstances of time and place. Many of the social discomforts that have been attributed to the industrial revolution in Britain were, in fact, the result of forces which (for all we know) would still have operated if manufacture had remained undeveloped and there had been no change of economic form.

Among these was the movement of prices. In the first half of the eighteenth century wholesale prices in England were steady, with a slight inclination to fall. Between the middle fifties and the early nineties they rose by some 30 per cent, and between 1790 and 1814 they roughly doubled. From this point there was a fall, swift at first, then more gradual, until in 1830 a level was reached slightly below that of 1790, and less than half that of 1814. For some of these fluctuations responsibility must, indeed, rest with the industrial revolution. For it was of the essence of this that resources should be turned from the making of consumers' goods to that of industrial equipment,


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