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The British Industrial Revolution

February 28, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 153

The Industrial Revolution is used to describe the period from about the early 18th century to the mid 19th century. Specifically, from the time of 1700-1870 depending on when the revolution is defined to have begun and which country is in question.

At its core, the Industrial Revolution was sparked by a number of technological innovations that redefined the constraints on human productivity:

Steam power - Although Thomas Newcomen invented the first commercial steam engine, it was James Watt who made the engine efficient enough to be widely commercially applied. The Watt engine allowed factories to be run without the presence of a river and made industry exponentially more productive.

Iron making - Coke replaced charcoal as the fuel source used in iron smelting, greatly improving the efficiency of the process.

Textiles - The flying shuttle (1733), cotton mills (1742), spinning jenny (1764), water frame (1764), spinning mule (1779), power loom (1785), and cotton gin (1792) all greatly improved the efficiency of textile production.

Energy - The steam engine and internal combustion engine dramatically improved industrial productivity and the invention of applications of electricity revolutionized society. This however, was not perfect until well into the 20th century.

*It is important to understand that most technological innovations were not able to be widely applied at first until many refinements could be made. This means that everything did not suddenly become industrialized; in fact, industrialization was a very slow process that was not fully felt until at least 1850

**However, the defining characteristic of the Industrial Revolution is the fact that economic growth can to be driven by technological innovation instead of methods with diminishing marginal returns such as better resource allocation, better institutions, gains from trade, etc.

Malthusian Economics

Recall that Malthusian economics stated that for the working class, life would always remain at the level of subsistence (just enough to live) as driven by the iron law of wages.

His logic went like this:

For some reason such as new technology that increases society's wealth, wages increase As a result, people can afford to have more children This in turn increases the population, which drives wages down because more people are competing for jobs Eventually, wages return to the previous level of subsistence Under this model, there is no economic surplus for people to enjoy and helps explain why economics was called the "dismal science" in its day.

Malthus even proposed that if the population grew to be large enough, there would be adverse population shocks such as wars, disease, and famine to correct the high populations.

However, his theories were ultimately proved wrong as gains from trade, better technology, immigration, and fertility control all allowed for sustained population growth.

As it happened, the Industrial Revolution began in Britain for a number of reasons discussed in the 18th century review.

It benefited from modern business and political institutions that promoted innovation.

Innovation was the defining characteristic of this revolution as novel new technologies developed and perfect in the 19th and 20th centuries allowed human productivity to surge.

Its agricultural production made more food with less people, allowing workers to move to the cities and join the urban workforce.

Markets became more liquid and more sophisticated as banking services became more and more advanced.

Occupational specialization was enabled by better methods of exchange. New products reached untapped markets due to the improvement in transportation and ideas were exchanged more easily as well. In general, society became more commercialized and standards of living increased in the long run.

New technology drove a boom in the services sector, which ultimately became the fastest growing sector of GDP in industrializing nations.

Even the loss of America as a colony did not hurt Britain as much as some would think because commercial links were quickly reestablished.

An era of free trade fostered economic growth and specialization, as Britain became a major exporter of manufactured goods.

Interestingly, economic growth in Britain slowed down in the late 19th and 20th century as the rest of Europe caught up and Britain actually fell behind in terms of economic growth.

For more European History information:

AP European History

Source: EzineArticles
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