X hits on this document

PDF document






13 / 30


political influence promotions within the civil service, and so on. The West, of course, experimented with such non-pecuniary incentives (William Thomson became Lord Kelvin and Fritz Haber, the inventor of the Haber-Bosch nitrogen-fixing process, became quite influential in the German political hierarchy), but relied primarily on monetary incentives.

The Industrial Revolution and its significance For over a century now, scholars have written extensively about the meaning of the Industrial Revolution and its relation to the events that followed. The literature has reached a number of rather contradictory conclusions that seem to add up to a confused picture. On the one hand, the events in Britain after 1760 clearly constituted the beginning of something quite novel in human history, namely sustained economic growth based on constantly growing useful knowledge. At the same time, however, as scholars examine the details, they find more and more that it was a local event, and neither quantitatively particularly impressive in terms of its impact on the overall economy nor very unusual. As is by now widely accepted, the Industrial Revolution was a period of very slow economic growth in Britain. Most estimates find that income per capita growth in the years 1760-1830 grew about as fast as it had done in the years 1700 to 1760. These numbers to some extent underestimate the macroeconomic achievements of the age: the years of the Industrial Revolution were years of war, in which many of the traditional gains from trade with Britain’s partners across the Atlantic and the Channel were seriously disrupted; they were years of bad harvests and high food prices; and above all, they were a period of very rapid population growth which, if one takes the standard economic model literally, should have pushed the economy into a sharp decline in living standards. No such decline took place, and that was no mean achievement. All the same, the capability of modern economic growth that emerged in the nineteenth century, to improve living standards for a growing population, clearly was not there yet.18 Modern scholarship seems to converge on the consensus that the Industrial Revolution was not intrinsically different from earlier episodes, a case of “Growth recurring.”19

Periods of clusters of technological progress had occurred before in human history. The fifteenth century was an unusually creative era, in which blast furnaces emerged in Europe (the Chinese

18It can be computed that in the absence of any technological progress during the Industrial Revolution, living standards between 1760 and 1830 might have declined on account of population growth alone by 10-20 percent, depending on what one assumes about capital accumulation. See Joel Mokyr, ed., The British Industrial Revolution 2nd ed., 1998, p. 76.

19This argument was made originally by Eric Jones, Growth Recurring: Economic Change in World History, 1988. For an elaborate recent restatement, see Jack A. Goldstone, “ Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History,” unpublished ms., University California, Davis, 2001.

Document info
Document views145
Page views158
Page last viewedTue Jan 17 18:11:28 UTC 2017