Understanding the Industrial Revolution

By Charles More | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Conclusion

Causes

A popular method of explaining the British Industrial Revolution is to list a number of factors which are thought to have contributed to it in some way. Such explanations usually include several, and sometimes all, of the following: growing demand, occurring as a result of population increase, export growth, changes in taste or some combination of these; efficient capital markets and a plentiful supply of capital; productive agriculture; a base of scientific knowledge and artisanal skills; a good transport network; Protestantism in general and Nonconformity in particular; and stable government.

This method of explanation has been aptly named the ‘laundry list’ approach. It is not illogical: the Industrial Revolution could simply have occurred because of the cumulative addition of a number of advantages. But neither is it very effective. In some of these areas Britain’s lead over other developed economies, such as those of Holland and France, was small; in others it was non-existent or the other countries actually had an advantage. For instance, French exports may well have grown faster for most of the eighteenth century, and the Dutch had lower interest rates than Britain. So the explanation calls for a belief that a striking difference in economic development was caused by some, mainly small, advantages, which were so important that they outweighed other disadvantages. There is no particular reason assigned for this - it just was so - and this lack of explanatory rigour forms another criticism of such an explanation. It is in striking contrast to the growth models reviewed in this book, which tend to focus on one, or a very few, causal mechanisms.

-158-

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Understanding the Industrial Revolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vi
  • Tables vii
  • Preface viii
  • The Scope of the Industrial Revolution 1
  • Models of the Industrial Revolution 9
  • Capital Accumulation 29
  • Labour Supply 51
  • Demand 70
  • Inventors and Entrepreneurs 95
  • Market Size and Integration 113
  • Industrialisation and Living Standards 138
  • Conclusion 158
  • Index 182
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