industrial activity could, even in the absence of factories and mechanization, create tensions within industries based on workshops or domestic production, upsetting the existing social organization of work through the need for stricter controls over labour or an intensification of competition. There is, after all, no reason why factory workers rather than artisans or rural cottages should be at the forefront of social protest and conflict. On the contrary, it might well be artisans, with a sense of property in their skill as 'honourable' trades, who were most able to organize in protest against a deterioration in their position. Similarly, the new economic historians have provided support for critics of enclosure as a device for 'class robbery' which removed the rights of small farmers and shifted income to landlords, and have challenged the apologists of rural change who stressed efficiency and productivity gains. Further, the emphasis upon the slow rate of economic growth gives more support to those who argue that the standard of living was eroded in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and that the industrial revolution led to hardship and misery rather than improvement. Far from supporting the notion that eighteenth-century Britain was a stable, patriarchal ancien régime which was innocent of social conflict, the thrust of recent work on the slow rate of growth could support an interpretation which stresses social tension.
Application of these themes and approaches starts with the agricultural basis of the economy, which was so important to Smith, Malthus, and Ricardo. Was it really the case that British agriculture was facing declining marginal returns by the end of the eighteenth century, with a rise in prices and rent, which led to a redistribution of income in favour of landowners? Clearly, the first task must be to establish the chronology of agricultural output and yields in Britain from the late seventeenth century.