“The Industrial Revolution could NOT have happened without Britain’s involvement in the world economy”. The industrial revolution was a major event that took place over a fair duration of time around the 17th century which has changed the face of this planet.
The change came about initially in Europe and then spread to latte parts of the world incorporating technology and efficiency in to daily production and ultimately decreasing inputs and increasing outputs. However, this appears to be beneficial, which it was, but there were negative effects which were associated with these changes.
This essay will discuss Britain’s involvement in the world economy with regards to the industrial revolution and how it benefitted societies on a whole, but will also touch on the negative connotations which came about through these events. Many economic historians try to analyse why the industrial revolution came about in Europe and especially in Britain.
Factors such as international trade, culture, geography, institutions, incentives and possibly luck all contributed to why Britain leaped ahead of other countries in the race for power and wealth. The Malthusian trap is the theory that explains pre-industrial revolution economies where there were no sustained increases in living standards; this was the time period before 1730. Britain’s institutions were very advanced and subsequently educated people which allowed for inventions to take place and industrial ideas to emerge.
Small improvements started being made and then a few “heroic inventions” were made such as the cotton spinner, the steam power and the manufacture of iron and coal. Figures show that before the invention of the cotton spinner, labourers were employed to hand spin cotton which roughly took around 50,000 hours to spin one hundred pounds of cotton, by the 1790s it was taking a merely 300 hours to spin the same amount of cotton with the cotton spinner.
The steam engine was invented by an engineer by the name of Thomas Newcomen, this allowed for quicker production and in essence faster transport, through trains and motor vehicles etc. This allowed for materials to be transported large distances and created expansion across Britain. These inventions of cotton and iron started to increase income of citizens and allowed for an increase in living standards etc. As one can notice these innovative ideas created a severe “knock on” effect.
A big sector of the population made a living through agriculture, but throughout the 17th century and in to the 18th century the work force found itself moving towards more urban areas where job opportunities were more prominent and income was higher, thus creating bigger towns and increases in population size. Transportation was obviously a key factor in the development of infrastructure and obtaining slaves from British colonies in Africa. Britain was able to build an empire in India and North America and thus gave them opportunity to buy relatively cheap raw materials.
Britain now had their “foot in the door”, so to speak, and this gave rise to international trade which led to urbanisation. New international markets arose that supplied them with raw materials and created demand for manufactures which led to higher wages. Labour was expensive, therefore innovative people started inventing technology to substitute labour, which benefitted business men in terms of capping costs, but reduced their market for consumers as more people had less money to spend on goods and services.
The location of Britain and the geographical features of Europe also played a fairly important role in areas such as production and transportation. The wet climate was good for farming which helped Britain to expand its exporting market to foreign countries for wealth or other goods.
Britians positioning on the world map made it a very central place to trade to and from, as America and neighbouring countries were relatively close. Particularly important was the abundance of local coal and mineral ores which were very much central to urban areas so extraction and transportation of these goods wasn’t as costly.
Industrialisation illustrates the geographic process of cultural diffussion; that is, the spread of an idea from one geographic location to another. Arising in Great Britain, industrialization later spread to France, following the introduction of British railroad technology, and to Germany, through the introduction of British machinery and capital.
(http://primohistory.com/Geography/and/Industrial/Revolution.pdf) Cultural effects some what also played an effect in the advancement of britains industrial phase, however, i dont believe that culture was as important as other factors. The culture of Britains societies was very cruel and harsh, especially in London, as woman and children were made to work long hours with minimal pay, this resulted in quick production.
Culturally, Britain had a very intellectual society due to good institutions, as mentioned earlier, thus excellence and striving for better was almost a characteristic of they population, making their nation very proactive. Everyone wanted more, a better standard of living, more income etc, this was the culture of societies within Britain and was very effective in obtaining a high standard of rsults.
As mentioned above there were many beneffits in great britain associated with the industrial revolution, however, there were negtive effects as well which will be discussed in the latte part of this essay. Inequality starting greeping into societies, as the rich became richer and the poor became poorer, due to implementation of machinery into factories. The wealthier proportion of Britian started substituting manual labour for machines and thus less workers were required to work. This created a huge effect on the divide of wealth, as there were more people without purchasing power and couldnt afford goods and services that were available.
The labour force that were employed by wealthier business owners were treated very badly and payed minimal wages, the profits that were made went to the top of the company and as you can see this division of wealth started to emerge. Another negative side effect of the industrial revolution was with the implementation of all this machinery and technology, the work area became a very dangerous place to be, especially in heavy duty factories. Many of the employees were either woman, children or African slaves and were not equiped with operating such machinery resulting in many injuries and deaths within the production process.
The working class of the population was not clean or hygenic and as a rsult the living conditions of these people was very poor. Often mothers were taken away from children and families tended to suffer. Poor workers were at the hands of wealthy factory workers, who mistreated them with harsh punishments and unrealistic working hours. As a result of poor living conditions diseases started to develop and deaths were strife. In conclusion, there were many beneffits that were associtated with the industrial revolution in Britain, but one must also acknowledge the negative effects which came with such change.
The industrial revolution was a time of great imagination and progress. The inventions that allowed new products to be manufactured created a demand that caused a vicious cycle that propelled some people to prosperity, while at the same time held people down in poverty. It was almost never the intent of the inventors, scientists, and other brilliant people to cause such a chasm between the working class and the industrial machine, but it was, nonetheless, created.
The role of government today in regulating industry is geared more towards protecting the worker. Back in the early days of the industrial revolution the opposite was the norm. The involvement of britain in the world economy was without doubt a huge influence in todays way of living. I believe britain opened the doors to a “new world” in the sense that the steps that were made put living standards and working conditions, that we know today, in place. Eventhough there were many negative consequences involved with this process, it helped teach new generations how to rectify these mistakes and improve on the achomplishments that were made.
References: 1) Allen, R.C., The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) 2) Landes, David. Wealth and Poverty of Nations (London: W.W. Norton, 1998) 3) R. M. Hartwell, The Industrial Revolution and Economic Growth (1971) 4) O’Brien, P.K., ‘European Economic Development: The Contribution of the Periphery’, The Economic History Review 35 (1982), 1-18.