The economic boom that we observed in the mid-18th century did not happen all at once. Just like it did not happen all over the world. It happened in one particular place on Earth. And that is England. Knowing this we can track back the roots of the modern economic growth and see the factors that contributed to its take off.
Nothing in the nature exists in the vacuum. There must have been some favorable conditions that triggered the initial burst of innovation and development. One might say that it was James Watt with his steam engine that pulled the trigger. While to some extent this is true, as technology advance plays a crucial role in economy, there were also other factors such as transport, market, exchange that together enabled the modern economic growth to happen. Professor Jeffrey Sachs from University of Columbia explains that for the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century to come about, it was first agricultural productivity that had to rise. Previously sowed by hand, thanks to Jethro Tull and his seed drill, seeds were now sowed in straight lines. Farmers began to learn how to improve their crops and provide nutrients for the soils. It was by no means scientific but more empirical approach I would say but it worked and it worked very well.
Simultaneously the process of urbanization started to accelerate, there was more trade, most remarkably textiles, that strengthened market economy. Rule of law came to the fore with the growing ownership and demand for property rights. With the breakthroughs initiated by Isaac Newton (gravity) already in 17th century and then continued by James Watt (steam engine), Eli Whitney (cotton production) just to name the few, people started to look at things differently. They began to change the way they were doing things and their mindsets, aspirations and motivations changed too. They now saw that more is possible. And they started to reach for it.
One last thing, that I would like to mention is the nature part in all that happened. We need to remember that none of the above would be possible without the favorable conditions of mother nature. Both the geographical location of England surrounded by fours seas that enabled international trade and its rich coal and steel deposits made it far more easier for the country to become major force on the world arena of economic development. The first steam engine by Thomas Savery (dating back to 17th century) burned coal to create motive force and was used to pump water out of the mines. But his invention would be of no use if there was no coal in England that could be later turned into the modern steel and coal industry.
Thanks to James Watt's improvements the door has opened for steam locomotives and railway transport to carry both passengers and traded goods. As we know England has excellent transport conditions with the river Thames connecting coal mines to London. This soon led to the staggering number of newly built canals and factory towns which in turn attracted local people searching for the employment. There was a drastic and dynamic shift from agriculture to industry and trade, widening rural-urban gap that I talked about in the previous post.
This shows us that nature and humans can work together. In fact we need both to achieve great things, to develop our full potential. It is humans that can use what nature offers us using efficient tools they created in a way that is beneficial for the development of humanity. But they should use these resources wisely and with respect to what is beyond our control but yet a number one determinant not only of our prosperity and growth but of our lives.
As we can see there were many things that came together to make the Industrial Revolution possible. The effective use of natural resources, spreading market economy, technological breakthroughs... they all changed the world in a unique way. What do you think, did it also divide the world? Or maybe we had started good but something happened later that gave rise to modern inequalities? Share your thoughts!