Reading Notes for September 15, The British
Economics 210a, Fall 1999
N.F.R. Crafts (1985), British Economic Growth during the
Industrial Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press),
Nick Crafts tried to put together a new--revisionist--view
of the industrial revolution. He succeeded: his version is now
the conventional wisdom. In Crafts's view:
- Productivity growth and technological innovation is slower
than previous authors had believed.
- Investment is slow to increase.
- Growth in material standards of living is well-nigh nonexistent
until after 1830 or so--hence the extraordinary (to us) fact
that Britons before 1860 could argue over whether industrialization
raised living standards.
- The change of Britain from an agricultural to an industrial
society was slower than previous authors had believed.
As you read, watch how Crafts constructs his argument. Where
are his arguments against the previous--more optimistic--view
of the industrial revolution convincing? Where were you not persuaded?
Did he seem to you to draw reasonable inferences from his new
Crafts's estimates, because they slow the growth rate, leave
Britain in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries considerably
richer than previously thought. This should be seen as a point
for Jan de Vries in his argument that the commercial economies
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were actually surprisingly
David Landes (1993), "The Fable of the Dead Horse; or,
The Industrial Revolution Revisited," in Joel Mokyr, ed.,
The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective
(Boulder: Westview Press), pp. 132-170.
David Landes's polemical argument against N.F.R. Crafts and
C. Knick Harley has a very simple structure: "I'm talking
oranges and you're talking apples."
Landes is concerned with innovative best-practice as opposed
to economy-wide average practice.
Landes is concerned with leading-edge productivity as opposed
to economy-wide material standards of living.
Landes is concerned with invention as opposed to economy-wide
I think that he scores on all points. After all, consider
a sign wave: at the point where it is moving upward the fastest,
its value is average; at the point where it is accelerating upward
the fastest, its value is least.
A more interesting question: the industrial revolution looked
like a revolution--an extraordinary change, a world-overturning
process--to the people who lived through it. But does it look
like a revolution to us, who have another century and a half
of history to look back at?
Peter Temin (1997), "Two
Views of the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic
History 57:1 (March), pp. 63-82.
Back when she and Roderick Floud edited the first edition
of their British Economic Growth book, Deirdre McCloskey
pointed out that productivity growth in the leading sectors of
the British industrial revolution could not account for much
of (pre-Crafts) economy-wide productivity growth. Thus people
thought that there was a lot of "invisible" enterpreneur-
and technology-driven productivity growth taking place in early
nineteenth century Britain. Then came Crafts's revisions--after
which there was no space left for any extra-leading-sector
So Peter Temin decided to use trade data to test whether the
pattern of comparative advantage was consistent with British
productivity stagnation outside of iron and cotton.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848), "The Communist
Manifesto", pp. 469-500 of Robert C. Tucker, ed., The
Marx-Engels Reader 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978),
Worth reading as the foundational text of a world religion
that shook the globe for a century and a half. Not an uninteresting
interpretation of what was going on in mid-nineteenth-century
Europe either--even if Marx and Engels did interpret what they
saw through Chiliastic lenses, mistaking the birth pangs of industrial
capitalism for its death throes...
Karl Marx (1849), "Wage Labor and Capital," pp.
203-217 of Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader
2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), pp. 469-500.
Worth reading because it is the closest Marx comes to writing
down a model. Key because it is the argument that underlies
Marx's constant prediction that capitalism can never generate
persistent increases in real living standards for the overwhelming
bulk of the population. (At least, Marx did make that constant
prediction. And he never wrote down another argument.)
As you read along, ask yourself...
- Is Marx's prediction of the inevitable immiserization of
the working class--"...the forest of uplifted arms demanding
work becomes ever thicker, while the arms themselves become ever
thinner"--a Malthusian prediction? Or is it something else?
- What went wrong with Marx's prediction of the inevitable
immiserization of the working class? Where is the flaw in his