4 comments on “The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective

  1. Do you really believe in the resource curse? Is there any evidence for it? Isn’t it just that if you select on countries that have resources and nothing else, they don’t get anything else in the future? Well, if they didn’t produce anything in the past, why would you expect them to produce in the future? While if they have real production, the resources don’t interfere with its growth, but they don’t count as having resources in the first place, because that would be boring.

    Isn’t economists are incompetent a simpler hypothesis?

  2. Douglas, I believe that resources have a moderate tendency to cause poor governance. There are somewhat decent causal models, and probably not enough independent data points to justify much confidence in them.

    “Economists are incompetent” is a simple hypothesis. It does not appear to tell me much.

  3. Before looking at causal models, you should look at whether the correlation is true. You shouldn’t trust the economic literature.

  4. Great summary! The causes of the Industrial Revolution are a fascinating subject.

    Lending to the cultural explanation, Anton Howes (https://antonhowes.substack.com/) argues IIRC something changed starting around 1550 in London where people saw innovation as not only possible, but worth pursuing. His idea is that there’s nothing obvious about striving to invent better methods and mechanisms. Historically it was rare, and yet that spirit was present in London on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps this is compatible with the Protestant Reformation as a cause.

    But the cause I find the most compelling is articulated by Gregory Clarke in A Farewell to Alms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Farewell_to_Alms).

    Essentially, London has always been a dirty city. The mortality rate is high in London from crowding and poor sanitation. The black plague brought waves of deadly illness starting in 1348 that tended to primarily wipe out the lower classes. In fact, the population was only sustained by migration from other areas in Britain. Clarke further argues that successful merchants and wealthy craftsmen tended to have more children.

    Then, the population of London suddenly multiplied in a way that has never happened before in human history. From 1500 to 1700, it grew 10 times to ~600k, and not from immigration. Much of this growth precedes the major inventions of the Industrial Revolution. It seems like the average London citizen was just more productive.

    If this account is accurate, it seems more like a biological revolution. The cultural aspect might be mostly downstream.

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