Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute: The Ethical and Rhetorical Foundations of Modern Freedom and Prosperity

    Posted by Lexington Green on August 21st, 2014 (All posts by )

    GREAT talk by Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute last night.

    She was promoting her book Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World which is the second in a trilogy with The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. She announced last night that she just finished the third volume.

    This essay, entitled The Great Enrichment Came and Comes from Ethics and Rhetoric gives some insight into her ideas.

    THE question for social science and history is: Why the West?

    Economic historians have discovered that until a couple of centuries ago the ordinary folk of Europe and Africa and Asia and the rest were about equally poor, stuck from the caves to 1800 at an average $1 to $7 a day, notionally $3, pretty much regardless of where they lived. Our ancestors on average never approached the astonishing $33 worldwide average of today, and did not come remotely close to the dumbfounding $100 a day or higher that two billion or so of humankind now enjoys, and more and more every year. The change since 1800 is well labeled “The Great Enrichment.”

    As Prof. McCloskey graphically depicted in her talk, for 100,000 years our ancestors lived in dirt poverty, then, explosively, it began to change, only a couple of centuries, starting in Europe — really in England.

    How did this miracle, which we take for granted, ever happen?

    I do not dispute the importance of the ethical and rhetorical changes Prof. McCloskey focuses on to explain the rise of the modern, industrial world — but I disagree about their primacy.

    Webs of causation, many factors, numerous necessary but not sufficient conditions … . The multiplicity of factors identified by Alan Macfarlane are critical. The family systems identified by Emmanuel Todd are critical.

    We discuss these factors in America 3.0.

    But she is onto an important and neglected part of the story.

    The Great Enrichment came, I say, from a unique unleashing of human creativity in a novel liberty and dignity for ordinary people— in northwestern Europe from the sixteenth century on, the liberating and honoring of market-tested improvement and supply.
     

     
    The change, the Bourgeois Revaluation, was the coming of a business-respecting civilization, accepting of the Bourgeois Deal: “You let me, a bourgeoise, make market-tested improvements, and in the third act of the drama I will make all of you richer.” Much of the elite, and then also much of the non-elite of northwestern Europe and its offshoots, came to accept or even admire, in a word, the bourgeois values of exchange and improvement. Or at least it did not attempt to block them, and even sometimes honored them on a scale never before seen. Especially it did so in the new United States.

    Deirdre McCloskey is a great and compelling advocate for the importance of freedom, without which we would not have ever escaped from the grinding curse of perpetual ignorance, oppression and poverty which our ancestors suffered under.

    UPDATE:

    She has a good piece in the Financial Times, from August 12, 2014, Equality lacks relevance if the poor are growing richer:

    In relative terms, the poorest people have been the biggest beneficiaries. The rich became richer, true. But millions more have gas heating, cars, smallpox vaccinations, indoor plumbing, cheap travel, rights for women, lower child mortality, adequate nutrition, taller bodies, doubled life expectancy, schooling for their kids, newspapers, a vote, a shot at university and respect.
     
    Never had anything similar happened, not in the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome, not in ancient Egypt or medieval China. What I call The Great Enrichment is the main fact and finding of economic history.
     

     
    The Great Enrichment came from innovation, not from accumulating capital or exploiting the working classes or lording it over the colonies. Capital had little to do with it, despite the unhappy fact that we call the system “capitalism”. Capital is necessary. But so are water, labour, oxygen and pencils. The path to prosperity involves betterment, not piling brick on brick.
     
    Taxing the rich, or capital, does not help the poor. It can throw a spanner into the mightiest engine for lifting up those below us, arising from a new equality, not of material worth but of liberty and dignity. Gini coefficients are not what matter; the Great Enrichment is.

    RTWT. Free registration required at the FT.

     

    36 Responses to “Deirdre McCloskey at the Illinois Policy Institute: The Ethical and Rhetorical Foundations of Modern Freedom and Prosperity”

    1. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “The family systems identified by Emmanuel Todd are critical”

      Which is one reason I oppose same sex marriage.

    2. Texan99 Says:

      I began reading “Bourgeois Dignity” a while back. It made sense, but in a slightly dizzying way: she was forever announcing things that were somewhat obvious, but apparently heretical in her circles. People became more prosperous when they quit hating and despising the merchant class and capitalists and moneylenders! Hey!

      But I’m always glad to see those ideas get out there in the world, and it’s especially valuable when they’re presented by someone that a leftist might not yet have placed on his “untouchable” list.

    3. Lexington Green Says:

      “… things that were somewhat obvious, but apparently heretical in her circles.”

      Yes.

      “…I’m always glad to see those ideas get out there in the world … ”

      YES.

    4. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Thanks for the new picture.

    5. Mike K Says:

      “In relative terms, the poorest people have been the biggest beneficiaries. The rich became richer, true. But millions more have gas heating, ….”

      I wish that this was as certain with the present economy built upon crony capitalism/fascism and phony money. Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Rockefeller and the “robber barons” of the 19th century who built the railroads and bridges were benefactors of mankind. Even poor old Sam Insull , who made electrical appliances available for the housewife in the 1920s but went broke later and took a lot of life savings with him, was a provider of a better life (As long as you didn’t invest with him).

      The present day hedge fund managers and “green” entrepreneurs who are tax farming provide nothing of value that I can see. Even currency arbitrage has more useful purpose than these Obama supporters

    6. pseudoerasmus Says:

      Todd’s L’invention de l’Europe and Macfarlane’s Savage Wars of Peace are both excellent reads, but they have little explanatory power about the industrial revolution.

      The industrial revolution began very specifically in Lancashire, not “England”, and spread quickly to the Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany. This suggests Todd’s “absolute nuclear family” had nothing to do with it, and other exceptionalist explanations based on mortality or some unique individualism as you find in Macfarlane are also wrong.

      The thing that requires explanation is technological innovation. There was a general atmosphere of technological tinkering and inventiveness in 1500-1750 in the region sometimes called the blue banana (though it should also include northern France). The jacquard loom or the centrifugal pump was not less sophisticated than innovations used in Lancashire in the 18th century. The key difference is that Lancashire just happened to specialise in an industry with a mass market — cotton textiles — whereas the other innovations were for goods without mass markets — silk in the one case and, in the other, for activities like lumber processing (in the Netherlands). Microscopes and thermometers, also invented at this time outside England, obviously could not become the basis of a mass commercial industry like cotton.

      It also helped that early in the 18th century the age of first marriage mysteriously dropped in England, leading to a big rise in population and a bigger market for consumption goods. That’s why England looked like it was “suddenly” taking off in the late 18th century, when in fact in per capita or per worker terms there was a very gradual, almost-imperceptible acceleration of productivity growth that started probably at the end of the Tudor period.

      But an even less fruitful line of inquiry is McCloskey’s ! I just don’t understand how “bourgeois dignity” can explain technological innovation, and that’s the key factor.

    7. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      I was reading about the pioneers crossing the West in 1850’s. Crossing the Rockies with ox carts. Crossing the Basin and Range. The Sierras (higher than the Rockies and often more steep as well). You could die a hundred different ways in a hundred different places, and many did. From the Midwest to California or the Oregon Territory took six months.

      Suddenly, there was the transcontinental railroad. The crossing could be made in a few days. There was food and water and shelter. The cost was less than oxen you would have needed.

      Robber barons.

    8. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Indeed, Michael – I put that in my first historical novel – about walking alongside an ox-pulled wagon, all the way from the Mississippi-Missouri to the Sacramento Valley in six months or more … and a couple of decades later, making the trip in relative ease in a railway parlor car, and in less than a week.

    9. Mike K Says:

      “they have little explanatory power about the industrial revolution.”

      Joel Mokyr has a good argument in his books that patent law and law in general did a lot to stimulate innovation as inventors could profit. Nobody knows who invented the stirrup or the moldboard plow. From Wiki

      Major changes in design did not become common until the Age of Enlightenment, when there was rapid progress in design. Joseph Foljambe in Rotherham, England, in 1730 used new shapes as the basis for the Rotherham plough, which also covered the mouldboard with iron.[19] Unlike the heavy plough, the Rotherham (or Rotherham swing) plough consisted entirely of the coulter, mouldboard and handles. It was much lighter than conventional designs and became very popular in England. It may have been the first plough that was widely built in factories.

      The moldboard plow was known from about 600 AD in Europe. It was required by the heavy clay soil of northern Europe. The Romans used lighter plows that could not turn over heavy soil.

    10. pseudoerasmus Says:

      “Joel Mokyr has a good argument in his books that patent law and law in general did a lot to stimulate innovation as inventors could profit”

      Most of the earliest pioneers of the industrial revolution in Lancashire either could not enforce their patents, or had patent requests denied, or spent huge amounts of time in patent litigation. The industrial revolution in England did not produce really great fortunes (as it did later in the United States). Most of the innovations leaked to competitors and consumers, not firms, were the primary beneficiaries. Textiles were more than 10% of English national output and accounted for >25% of the efficiency growth of the English economy, yet the industry produced no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

    11. Lexington Green Says:

      Psuedoerasmus, you have to read Macfarlane’s Modern World series. It’s free here.

      “Just happened” — wrong. England could have a mass market, in fact already had one, because it was already rich, with wealth widely distributed before the Industrial Revolution. People from Europe were shocked at rich the country was. That’s in the Macfarlane material.

      The Industrial Revolution was not limited to Lancashire or to cotton. Coalbrookdale is not in Lancashire, to pick one other key locale.

      The ANF cultural area identified by Todd was where the modern economy and society first developed and where the Industrial Revolution began. Not a sufficient condition, but probably a necessary one.

      McCloskey is right that these changes in attitude happened at the same time. They are interesting in themselves. How much they were a cause rather than an effect, or part of a feedback loop of both, is impossible to quantify. Nonetheless, changing attitudes do matter, and they end up leading to changed laws and changed behavior.

    12. pseudoerasmus Says:

      Shropshire specialised in iron, and its contribution to English national output in 1750-1860 was tiny. Nothing — nothing ! — compared with Lancashire cotton. You think France, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, Belgium, and Italy weren’t producing pig iron in the 18th century ?

      England in 1750 was less rich (in per capita terms) than the Netherlands, and only slightly richer than Belgium and northern Italy.

      But it did begin a demographic growth acceleration in the 1740s.

      The ANF cultural area identified by Todd was where the modern economy and society first developed and where the Industrial Revolution began. Not a sufficient condition, but probably a necessary one.

      You can keep saying that, but it won’t make it true. Again, the fact that the industrial revolution spread so quickly to non-ANF areas shows how unnecessary that family structure was.

      Even in Todd’s half-baked theory, “modern economy and society” is a combination of Germanic high culture (literacy), English industry and French egalitarian-liberalism.

    13. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      >>Indeed, Michael – I put that in my first historical novel –

      I’d like to read that. What’s the title?

    14. James Bennett Says:

      The ANF culture area included at that time England, lowland Scotland, and the maritime Netherlands — pretty much the cradle of modern capitalism and the industrial revolution. The technologies spread fairly quickly to the AF (stem family) and ENF culture areas of northern and western Europe because they had previously built up fairly sophisticated bureaucratic systems for arming, fortifying, and provisioning their armies, because of continental military competition, and these bureaucracies adapted English industrial production techniques for their own purposes within fifty years or so of their emergence in England. From the start they were state-private bureaucratic hybrids, and they solved the problem of labor mobility from farm to city (separating workers from their traditional family welfare systems) by transferring the paternal role from the local paterfamilias to the bureaucratic state, creating Bismarckian state socialism.

      Just because these hybrid industrial systems were able to adapt and refine the British industrial systems once they had emerged is not proof that they could have developed them on their own. We have one existence proof — England. All the rest is speculation.

      Although Todd’s system is not the one perfect theory that predicts everything (because there is no such thing) it has good predictive power on a number of problems and is in many cases the simplest and most consistent available explanation for a variety of political problems.

    15. Mike K Says:

      WE must remember the role of the Black Death in ending serfdom in England, as well. A labor shortage resulted and competition for the services of manual laborers allowed mobility and the growth of towns. In the 18th century Oliver Goldsmith was bemoaning the shift from village to town although “The Deserted Village” concerned a rich man’s garden.

    16. pseudoerasmus Says:

      “We have one existence proof — England “

      That’s only because you assume a sharp, mystical discontinuity between the industrial revolution and the commercial revolution that goes back to the late Middle Ages in northern Italy.

      When one says the “industrial revolution” spread to continental Europe in the early 19th century, that means new production methods spread to the continent in the early 19th century. But that doesn’t mean there hadn’t been any industry before that. Industrial output per capita in 1750 was about the same in Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Austria-Hungary, Switzerland, and Germany. No obvious correlation with family systems. England’s in 1750 was double the continental European average and it was disproportionately because of cotton.

      LG mentioned Coalbrookdale. In 1700, England imported most of its iron consumption from continental Europe, because domestic production with its high costs could not meet domestic demand. At the time, everybody was using charcoal for the smelting and the water wheel as a power source, but charcoal was scarce and expensive in England. Then the Shropshire iron industry slowly converted from “traditional” to “modern” methods using coal. But it wasn’t until the end of the century that English iron production would really take off. Yet French, German, and even Russian iron production using a mix of both charcoal and coal remained competitive until the 1830s, because different countries had different cost structures. Just because a new technology emerges doesn’t mean everybody adopts it immediately. Otherwise, today, the United States would be using as much automation and robotics as Japan, but it doesn’t, because there are different cost structures. And why didn’t the rest of the ANF Anglosphere start the industrial revolution ? The United States in 1830 was only about as industrialised as France (in terms of industrial output per capita). Could it be that the USA et al. had different cost structures and therefore different comparative advantages ? (Yes.)

      I’m not saying Todd’s family systems are useless. But they have low explanatory power for European economic history.

    17. pseudoerasmus Says:

      From the start they were state-private bureaucratic hybrids, and they solved the problem of labor mobility from farm to city (separating workers from their traditional family welfare systems) by transferring the paternal role from the local paterfamilias to the bureaucratic state, creating Bismarckian state socialism.

      (1) The “problem of mobility from farm to city” was solved in a very ordinary way : increased agricultural productivity released workers from the countryside. If anything, agricultural protectionism delayed the effect.

      (2) “State socialism” is a preposterous description of Germany after 1870. The German state shielded private German firms with tariff protection (rather like in the USA) and, sometimes, for industries deemed militarily strategic, subsidies were provided. The Prussian state did own the railroads, but again, these were considered military assets. But are railroads so different from roads, canals and other infrastructure ?

      (3) But why are you talking about Bismarck ? That’s usually called the “second industrial revolution”. I had been talking about the first industrial revolution — in Wallonia, in northern France, in the Ruhr, etc. Industrialisation in continental Europe was not accomplished by “state-private bureaucratic hybrids”. The Krupp iron works, which were founded in Essen in the early 1800s, were not a “state-private bureaucratic” hybrid. But the limiting factor in pre-unification Germany was that it had been divided into many independent states with their own customs, to which the customs union known as the Zollverein was the solution.

    18. Mike K Says:

      “I had been talking about the first industrial revolution — in Wallonia, in northern France”

      There is a school of thought that believes the revocation of the Edict of Nantes sent the Industrial Revolution to England with the Huguenots.

    19. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Michael H – it’s called “To Truckee’s Trail” – about the first party to actually get their wagons over the Sierra Nevada. There’s a link to my author page at Amazon in the blogroll.

    20. Grurray Says:

      Richard Arkwright was the Bill Gates of the Industrial Revolution.

      His innovations in production and factory systems directly influenced other sectors industries in Britain.

    21. pseudoerasmus Says:

      I suppose you could compare Arkwright with Bill Gates, but Josiah Wedgwood, manufacturer and purveyor of fine china, and grandfather of Charles Darwin, died as rich as Arkwright and his was not exactly a cutting-edge industry.

      In terms of contribution to gross output and to productivity, the textile sector was far more important to the English economy in 1750-1850 than the American IT sector is to the US economy today. Yet the English textile sector did not created far fewer “billionaires”. It was the same with steel and railroads. Britain didn’t have robber barons like the United States would.

    22. pseudoerasmus Says:

      correction…the English textile sector created far fewer “billionaires”….

    23. Grurray Says:

      The reason German states came late to the industrial revolution was because of the stifling influence of rentier guilds (precursors to the socialist bureaucracies) and the oppressive police state .

    24. Mike K Says:

      “the oppressive police state .”

      Bismarck was opposed in Parliament or Landtag by Rudolph Virchow, the pathologist who originated the cell theory in biology. Virchow opposed Bismarck’s military budget. Bismarck became so enraged at Virchow in their debates that he challenged him to a duel. As the challenged party, Virchow had the choice of weapons. He proposed two pork sausages, one cooked and the other raw. The duelists would choose one sausage at random and eat it.

      Bismarck declined the offer and no more was heard of it.

      Virchow was a radical and the Kaiser excused him as indispensable for the Prussian state.

      Ironically, Virchow did not accept the germ theory of disease offered by Pasteur and proven by Koch. His reasons for choosing the sausages is a puzzle as he did not believe in the theory that would explain the risk of the uncooked one. Perhaps he accepted trichinella but not bacteria.

    25. pseudoerasmus Says:

      the privileges of the guilds were abolished by Napoleon in the Rhineland.

    26. pseudoerasmus Says:

      people just abuse the word “socialist”. I mean, Gosplan is “socialist bureaucracy”. Germany never had anything like that

    27. pseudoerasmus Says:

      except in the Third Reich and even then it still wasn’t like Gosplan.

    28. veryretired Says:

      As much as I appreciate the historical citations, and the sparring over various influences, it is well to remember the fundamental key to modern prosperity—individual freedom, both in thought and action, which unleashed the stifled creativity of a multitude of thinkers and doers who would not have been allowed, or even survived, to accomplish their steps forward in past eras.

      It takes a long time for powerful ideas to percolate through a culture and engender the consequences they cause by way of their approach to reality. This is the key—how aligned to reality are the baseline tenets of any belief system.

      For millennia, humanity operated from belief systems which deified rulers and their retainers, and were supported by legions of priests and shamans, all of which crushed down and lived from the efforts of common citizens. Universally, those citizens were told everything they wanted and dreamed of was evil, and the needs and desires of their betters took precedence.

      The ancient and endlessly re-invented claim was that this life on earth was meaningless, and that some future existence was more important, more spiritually pure, and that happiness and fulfillment was not possible in this life.

      In a long, slow, tortuous process, western culture developed an alternative conception of existence, one which accepted not only life on this earth, but the capacity of human beings to hold independent thoughts and values, and the ability of people to comprehend the nature of reality through rational investigation and experiment.

      The proclamation of the rights of man, and the recognition of those rights by various societies, imperfect as they were, was the necessary and sufficient cause for all the innovation and prosperity that has resulted since.

      There has been no other truly revolutionary idea, or movement, in human history that even approaches the concept of individual rights as the source of all power and legitimacy.

      Nothing else even comes close.

      It is fine if some wish to argue the importance of this law or that cultural disposition. It’s always fun, and interesting, to explore this idea or that possibility.

      But, please, don’t lose sight of the gold while sifting through the dross.

      It is the rights and liberties of the individual which is the father and mother of all the progress mankind has made over these last few centuries.

      All else is commentary.

    29. Lexington Green Says:

      “… his was not exactly a cutting-edge industry …”

      Mild disagreement about Wedgwood. He was very innovative. It was an old industry but he did a lot of new things with it.

      My professor Max Hartwell, who taught one of the best courses I ever too, History of the Industrial Revolution, talked about Wedgwood. He developed methods to make large runs of china, not mass production, but enough to get economies of scale and permit middle class homes to have nice plates and so on. It was a big step forward toward domestic comfort and pleasantness. Lots of little things like that add up to an improved life, even if it is hard to quantify it.

    30. Grurray Says:

      In many parts of Germany guilds still dominated industrial production until the revolution of 1848. In some states, government took control of them. In some cases, they transitioned to trade associations such as the VDI.

    31. pseudoerasmus Says:

      But German industrialisation began in the Rhineland and disproportionately stayed there. That’s where you have the Ruhr and the Wupper valleys. That’s where you have Essen. Friedrich Engels was born to a rich textile factory owner in a Rhineland town. The Rhineland is also where German industry in the “proto-industrial period” had been located even in the guild era.

      Besides even in the case of the more backward eastern parts of Germany you completely ignore Prussia’s Stein-Hardenberg Reforms. Defeat can do a lot to shake things up.

    32. Grurray Says:

      Yes, I’m sure that early activity in the Rhineland was an important step in the early development and history.
      However,(and correct me if I’m wrong as I’ve never formally studied this subject and only know about it from what I’ve read and seen) it’s my understanding that the “revolution” part of the industrial revolution (and I’m going on the premise that there were three of four waves of identifiable “revolution”) didn’t start in Germany until the coal and iron mines were connected to the large scale manufacturing centers in Frankfurt and Berlin, where, coincidentally or not, the guilds persisted until mid century.

      Where Germany appears to excel and sees it’s growth accelerating is martialing the standards, procedures, and organizations to scale up into mass production in the “second industrial revolution”, as you say. This makes sense (to me at least) when thinking about how and when the old organization of skilled workers changed into new ones.

      If I understand this long thread correctly, the real question is whether or not the ANF structure is responsible for the trends and events like the industrial revolution(s) that created modern western civilization. I think you raise some valid concerns about what constitutes an actual revolution and why they were so uneven.

    33. Mike K Says:

      Another major factor in Germany’s rise was the discovery and rapid growth of chemistry, especially organic chemistry, which really got going there. That was 19th century, after the Industrial Revolution was well along in mechanical engineering terms.

    34. Lexington Green Says:

      “… the real question is whether or not the ANF structure is responsible for the trends and events like the industrial revolution(s) that created modern western civilization.”

      Not exactly. Saying “… is responsible for …” implies monocausality, which is not the position Bennett and I take.

      Bennett and I say it is one factor among many (England being an island is huge) for the peculiar nature of England (and the Netherlands) which made it a more commercial and contract-based rather than kin-based society from very early on, which in turn made it possible for the industrial revolution to start there and take hold there. Todd gives primacy to family structure, where we see it as part of a complex set of origins, but an important one which seems to have explanatory power.

      If I understand Pseudoerasmus correctly, he says England and the Netherlands having an ANF family structure, and a culture and society built on that, is irrelevant. But I may be overstating his position.

      From England this revolution spread to other places, which adapted the technology and knowledge to their local circumstances. For example, Germany from early on developed a distinctive approach. See, e.g. Peter J. Hugill, Structural changes in the core regions of the world-economy, 1830–1945 (unfortunately behind a pay wall).

      Alan Macfarlane and many others have written about this diffusion process. This recent chapter is good on this point. What started as an English miracle, became a European miracle, which then came to include the USA, then outposts in Asia, and is now literally global.

    35. pseudoerasmus Says:

      Yes, I completely reject the significance of the distinctions between “absolute nuclear”, “egalitarian nuclear” and “stem” families in explaining the priority and location of the industrial revolution.

      My whole point has been that LG and the other one attach way too much “deep” significance to England’s priority in the industrial revolution. Earlier I argued, the rapidity with which new, modern manufacturing processes would be first copied, then invented, by continental Europe and North America suggests how little that priority requires a “deep” explanation. For god’s sake, today, outside London, the UK is not even particularly wealthy by the standards of core Europe. I don’t know why anyone thinks what is now a land of yobs should have been uniquely or exceptionally suited to modern economic development, whereas what is now the richest region of Europe (the dead centre of the continent, north of Rome) just could never have done it but for the example set by Chavistan !

      People who attach so much significance to English priority, do so because they believe the adoption of modern manufacturing methods required some unique behavioural characteristics. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

      The term “industrial revolution” as used by LG is folk-historical, implying a process which was sudden, and discontinuous from all previous processes. That is simply not the case. The use of coal and labour-sparing technology of 1750-1850 was a gradual evolution from manufacturing methods which have been called “proto-industrial”. The evolution started earlier in England because wages were higher and coal was cheaper in England, and English factory owners sought to lower the costs of manufacturing through the use of labour-sparing technology. The reason for the more gradual adoption of the same technology in continental Europe was that labour was cheaper and charcoal was dearer.

      That’s it. There’s no deeper reason. It’s just prices, wages, supply and demand. In England the price of labour relative to capital was high. So there was a huge economic incentive to substitute capital for labour.

      The cost structure of manufacturing is the proximate cause. But why were wages higher in England in the 18th century ? After the Black Death, wages rose everywhere, but after 1550, wages fell everywhere. The only place where wages kept growing was London and the Dutch cities. Again, why ? The answer is wool in the 17th century and imperial global trade in the 18th century.

      Before the 17th century, northern Italy dominated woollen textile production in Europe (as they do now). But in the early 17th century Dutch and English wool production drove Italian producers out of business, for two reasons : (1) English & Dutch imitation of Italian methods for producing fine worsteds ; and (2) improved wool. For two centuries England had been expanding pastoral acreage for sheep and other livestock and wool prices were falling. And, for reasons poorly understood, English sheep started growing longer wool which was better adapted to worsteds than short wool. (Some speculate English sheep were better fed, but I speculate the reason is that the Little Ice Age caused an adaptation in northern sheep.)

      In the 18th century there was a massive expansion of English overseas trade enabled by its colonial empire. Here I’m not saying colonies-made-England-rich. I’m saying imperialism and mercantilism enabled overseas trade in a way not available to the French, the Germans or the Italians.

      Both worsted production in the 17th century and global trade in the 18th century steadily caused wages to rise in London because London was the entrepot for servicing this commercial expansion.

      Finally, the idea that English society was more “commercial and contract-based” than continental Europe which was supposedly more “kin-based” is laughably belied by the evidence.

      (1) Widespread trade and commerce was conducted by Flemish, north German, north Italian, Spanish and French cities in the entire post-1200 period. People focus on countries, because of their present bias, but the history of commerce and trade is fundamentally about cities. English overseas commerce was not even significant until after 1600, especially (as someone pointed out earlier) with the arrival of Flemish Protestants and French Huguenots in East Anglia. Before that, England had been largely a raw wool exporter.

      (2) England was not more urbanised in 1600 compared even with France, Spain or Italy. Even in 1700 England was not more urbanised than northern Italy or Belgium.

      (3) The goods market in mediaeval Europe were as integrated and efficient as those of the 18th century. That is, prices of things like wheat were strongly correlated across regions in Europe, not fragmented, as you would expect if some societies were weaker in commerce and trade than others.

      (4) Northern Italy’s manufacturing had been based on woollen cloth. This was destroyed by English and Dutch competition some time in the 1500s, but after that northern Italy did not simply disappear into the night. They switched to silk textile production, in which the Italians achieved high rates of productivity and technological sophistication. But raw silk was much more expensive than raw wool, especially after the introduction of long wool, and silk products just never became the commodity that either woollen or cottone textiles did become.

      My overall position is that the key to the “industrial revolution” is technological innovation, which took place broadly in what Charles Murray referred to as the European core http://img714.imageshack.us/img714/9863/murray2003europe.png

      Indeed there is a European exceptionalism in need of explanation, because the scientific and technological revolution was a European phenomenon But there is no English exceptionalism, except amongst anglosphere romantics.

    36. Lexington Green Says:

      Thanks for clarifying, PE.