Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850

Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850

Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850

Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850

Synopsis

Previous textbooks on 18th and 19th century Britain have tended to be written either from a social and political standpoint, or about economics in the abstract, as if the history could be reduced to statistical analysis. The aim of this book is to incorporate the revisionist work on British economic growth, which deals impersonally in broad national aggregates, with the work of social and political historians. It stresses the connections between the economy and debates over public policy, and examines the regional variations in agriculture and industry, with particular attention to the differences between England and Scotland. Much revisionist work concerns the operation of assumed national markets; the aim of the book is to show how these markets were formed, and how a national economy was created. The British economy underwent major strucrual change over the period from 1700 to 1850, as population moved from agriculture and rural life to industry and towns. Martin Danton gives a clear and balanced picture of the continuity and change in the early development of the world's first industrial nation. His book will become prescribed reading for all students of 18th and 19th century British history, and for economists studying the industrial revolution.

Excerpt

Adam Smith, in book I of The Wealth of Nations (1776), pondered 'the Causes of Improvement in the Productive Powers of Labour', and he was clear that he had the answer: 'The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.' He illustrated his argument with the famous example of the pin trade. A single workman could scarcely make one pin a day and certainly no more than twenty; division of tasks between specialized workers, each undertaking a distinct part of the process, permitted ten men to make 4,800 pins each a day, or an increase of at least 240-fold in labour productivity. The division of labour was dear in the pin trade, for relatively few workers were needed and they were gathered together in a single workshop; trades which employed a large number of workers 'to supply the great wants of the great body of the people' were more dispersed, and division was less obvious to the casual observer. But it was, argued Smith, at the heart of the process of growth and led to similar gains in productivity to those in the pin trade:

The division of labour . . . occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour. The separation of different trades and employments from one another, seems to have taken place, in consequence of this advantage. This separation too is generally carried furthest in those countries which enjoy the highest degree of industry and improvement; what is the work of one man in a rude state of society, being generally that of several in an improved one. In every improved society, the firmer is generally nothing but a farmer; the manufacturer, nothing but a manufacturer. The labour too which is necessary to produce any one complete manufacture, is almost always divided among a great number of hands. How many different trades are employed in each branch of the linen and woollen manufactures, from the growers of the flax and the wool, to the bleachers and smoothers of the linen, or to the dyers and dressers of the cloth!

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