The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy: Selected Essays

By Brinley Thomas | Go to book overview

7

DEMOGRAPHIC DETERMINANTS OF BRITISH AND AMERICAN BUILDING CYCLES, 1870-1913

In the course of the debate on the working of the Atlantic economy no critic has been able to refute the existence of an inverse relation between long swings in construction in Britain and the United States and in British home and foreign investment, at least in the period 1870-1913. There has indeed been ample confirmation. 1 Where disagreement enters is in the interpretation of the nature of the mechanism by which the economies of the two countries reacted on each other. Contributors to the discussion can be divided into two broad schools—those who accept the reciprocal character of British and American long swings as systematic rather than fortuitous, and those who argue that the operative forces were in the domestic sphere and not in any interacting process. The line taken by this second group is seen in the work of H.J. Habakkuk (1968:103-42) and S.B. Saul (1962).

Habakkuk is a sceptic not only about systematic influences in the alternation of British and American long swings, but even about the existence of a British building cycle, as the following quotation indicates.

There has recently been some suggestion that in England after the 1860s the trade cycle was not an independent phenomenon but simply the result of lack of synchronization between the long swings in foreign and domestic investment. The view taken here is the reverse of this: it was the long swings which were the epiphenomena and the trade cycles the reality, in the sense that when the character of the indi-

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