Economic History of Europe in Modern Times

By Melvin M. Knight; Harry Elmer Barnes et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT SINCE 1800 -- GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND GERMANY

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PERIOD

A LONG course of historical development may culminate in such a volume of change within a few decades as to constitute almost a revolution. If the term "Industrial Revolution" is to continue in use, the safest and most conservative meaning to give it is the shift from the earlier domination of industry by commerce to the domination of commerce by industry. This had largely taken place by the middle of the nineteenth century. Extreme caution is necessary even if the term is used in this restricted and rather definite sense. We start with a predominantly commercial organization of business, and large-scale industry develops with the expansion and intensive development of national and international markets. The whole series of economic changes involved is also inextricably bound up with improvements in transport facilities. To separate industry from the commerce through which its products are demanded and taken is always artificial, though sometimes necessary for convenience. If we remember constantly that all business is enterprise, carried on by people with the wants of other people in mind, the subject-matter of economic history need not break to pieces in our hands, even though we classify one activity as manufacturing, a second as trade, a third as transport, and so on. Those who organized and carried on business in the seventeenth century had very much the same practical purpose in view as their successors to-day, and the change in the sum total of methods and tools has been quite gradual. The constant thing is the one to follow. It never leaves us in midair, as might occur if we tried merely to trace the development of a machine back to the time when it did not exist.

We have seen how maritime commerce outgrew the single

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