When did the Industrial Revolution start?

by on January 11, 2006 at 6:51 am in History | Permalink

Had I mentioned that the Journal of Political Economy is my favorite academic journal?  In the December 2005 issue, the still under-valued Gregory Clark writes:

I use building workers’ wages for 1209-2004 and the skill premium to consider the causes and consequences of the Industrial Revolution.  Real wages were trendless before 1800, as would be predicted for the Malthusian era.  Comparing wages with population, however, suggests that the break from the technological stagnation of the Malthusian era came around 1640, long before the classic Industrial Revolution, and even before the arrival of modern democracy in 1689 [TC: was that when it came?].  Building wages also conflict with human capital intepretations of the Industrial Revolution, as modeled by Gary Becker, Kevin Murphy…and Robert Lucas.  Human capital accumulation began when the rewards for skills were unchanged and when fertility was increasing.

Here is an earlier but longer version of the paper.  Here is an on-line version of his book on growth.  Here is a previous MR post on the long, slow nature of the Industrial Revolution.

David Hecht January 11, 2006 at 8:30 am

“…the arrival of modern democracy in 1689 [TC: was that when it came?]”

The English Bill of Rights made the accession of William and Mary as monarchs (after the Glorious Revolution) contingent on a set of conditions that amounted to Parliamentary supremacy over the monarchy.

Many historians now consider the English Bill of Rights (1689) to be the first real-world application of the principle of popular sovereignty–that sovereignty derives from the people, not from God (or–perhaps more exactly–that God has entrusted His sovereign rule to the people, and that it is mediated through them to the ruler).

KipEsquire January 11, 2006 at 9:50 am

I vote for the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Not only did it lower production and transportation costs in the U.S. and enable westward expansion, but it actually made American agriculture so cheap that even Britain imported our grain (after the horrific hyper-protectionist “Corn Law” was repealed). With England’s peasant population liberated from farming and free to work in factories, Britain was also able to become a manufacturing nation. The tag team of England and America initiated the modern industrial global economy.

Also, if you look at the number of patents issued before the Canal versus after, and the number issued along the canal’s route during and immediately after its construction, you can see what a singularly immense effect the Canal had in bringing about the Industrial Revolution.

lee January 11, 2006 at 11:41 am

I’m not disagreeing with Kip/Esquire but instead of “freed from farming” try “forced off the land” and instead of “free to work in factories” try “forced to work for “Iron Law of Wageswages.

John P. January 11, 2006 at 1:19 pm

When I was studying US history in grad school in the mid-1980s, the general view among the faculty seemed to be that the consumer revolution (in the West) began in the 17th century. So Clark’s conclusion does not seem especially surprising.

David Hecht January 11, 2006 at 4:23 pm

DK: understand your points, and agree with them in general. I guess the question before the house is, what constitutes the key moment, when sovereignty is no longer held to emanate from the person of the monarch (as Charles X of France is still asserting, 125 years after the Glorious Revolution), but rather from the people (or, as is usually the case, their elected representatives)?

While you are right about Charles I, I for one am not altogether clear whether the regicide parliament really believed themselves to own the sovereign authority of the nation, or whether that is simply rhetoric (as, one might argue, the King’s statements may be also). Indeed, the speech you link to makes it perfectly clear that Parliament were acting much further outside the scope of their authority than was the King!

I also think you may be reading the King’s statements with too much of a modern sensibility: he isn’t saying he represents the people, he is saying he represents the nation, but that–as an Englishman–he also has (as a minimum!) the same rights as any ordinary Englishman…and that when Parliament tramples those rights in an effort to achieve a victor’s justice, they endanger the rights of the people under law.

ISTM that there is a huge difference between saying that Charles, as a bad king, must be cast down, and saying that the monarchy as an institution must be abolished: or indeed, saying that future monarchs must accept the supremacy of popular sovereignty as embodied by Parliament. It’s one thing to say that the monarch has–in effect–committed treason by exceeding his authority: it’s another to claim that only parliament may define the limits of that authority.

lee January 11, 2006 at 9:23 pm

I don’t quite follow David Hecht’s timeline. The Bourbon Restoration was in the person of Louis XVIII who went out of his way to portray himself as a Constitutional Monarch. Only 14 years later did his younger brother(Charles X) ascend the throne(1828). He did try to bring back absolute rule and lasted 1 year.

David Hecht January 11, 2006 at 11:09 pm

DK — Gotcha. We’re on the same page here! :-)

lee — Slip o’the brain: it’s been a while since I memorized the French monarchs. You’re right on the succession (L18 before C10), but the quotes I gave from the 1814 Constitutional Charter are nevertheless the point–L18 may have talked the talk, but he sure didn’t walk the walk: indeed, if you keep going further in the Charter it talks about how all executive power rests in the king, all judicial power emanates from the king, and so on.

dearieme January 12, 2006 at 5:56 pm

DK, then my apologies for misunderstanding you.
P.S. does anyone know a web-site where the 1689 Bill of Rights can be compared easily – say, in parallel columns – with the US one? I’d like to see how much of the former was included in the latter.

AA Tulchin January 12, 2006 at 10:28 pm

When I wrote the first comment I thought the series was more heavily based on Phelps Brown and Hopkins than it is. So Clark’s result is “more new” than I realized…. but it is still weird that Clark doesn’t cite Kussmaul (espcially) or Spufford, whose work would buttress his, although they might also make his conclusions less new and surprising. It’s also odd that he doesn’t cite any of the “height in history” literature, such as Fogel… see the recent issue of Social Science History on this, for references. The issue is that using one real wage series is kind of risky, because it is prone to systemic errors. It would be better to compare wages and prices with other kinds of measurements (like height) and agricultural productivity.

Erik January 18, 2006 at 1:16 am

If the 1640 date is accurate, the piece seems to argue that the economies of Europe started to take off about the time of the agricultural revolution (I think I remember that from my modern history class). The extent of the market limits the extent of specialization, and specialization drives innovation and technological development. So when food supply became more certain and steady (productivity increased because of the fencing in and privatizing of land plots in Britain) the population grew and was able to support more people. The growing market allowed for new opportunities for specialization and development.

unoosha malik January 30, 2006 at 3:54 pm

when did the revolution war take place?

linda October 9, 2006 at 7:29 am
lala November 30, 2006 at 7:41 pm

ok well..my story is that i’m failing us history and i really need to have an example sentence with the words popular sovereignty in it for my home work or else i’m screwed..

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