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You are here: Home > Suggested readings > Wrigley - Continuity, Chance and Change - ISBN 0521356482 - 3.5/5

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Published on 2018-04-26 09:38:07 | words: 991


Wrigley, E. A.
Continuity, Chance and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England
BookID 113134509
ISBN 0521356482
(see LibraryThing.com card)
Description (from Amazon)The Industrial Revolution produced the modern world, a world of increased affluence, longevity, urbanization, and travel. This book illuminates how the great surge of economic growth that determined these changes was not expected, and often went unnoticed. The author begins by discussing the kind of substantial economic growth that was predicted at the time, and goes on to cover the growth that was unexpected. The link between these two types of growth is presented in the context of English economic growth between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries and leads the author to challenge convincingly the conventional view that the Industrial Revolution was a simple, unitary, and consciously progressive phenomenon. .E.A. Wrigley is Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford University. He is the author of several books, among them, Population and History (McGraw-Hill) The Population History of England (CUP) and Continuity, Chance and Change (CUP)
My review: 3.5/5after reading "Il declino industriale" (the industrial decline) as part of my "change initiative" (see my profile on Linkedin), I decided to explore further declinations of "industrial development", and this book is focused on the one that still is taken for granted by people living in developed countries, while instead generated a significant change.

This book, derived from a series of conferences, is replete with data (information, if you previously read anything about the social impacts of industrial development) worth pondering, as there is a developing general consensus that our current economic model is being kept alive by financial gimmickry, but increasingly not just neo-Luddites and assorted extremists are here and there suggesting to "rediscover a land-based economy".

Examples: "Between 1550 and 1820 the populations of France, Spain, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands all appear to have grown by between 50 and 80 per cent; in England over the same period the comparable figure was 280 per cent." (page 13) and "[classical economists] had discussed at great length the productivity gains available to industry from specialization of function, linked to expanding demand and wider access to markets. They had also pointed to the significance of improved machinery and of advances in the techniques of production in the same context. [Omissis] Yes, in relation to the phenomenon of the industrial revolution, the issue of the availability of new sources of heat energy and mechanical energy is fundamental. It is also a topic with very close links to the question of the escape from dependence on organic sources of raw material supply." (page 27), "In 1800 the output of coal in Britain had reached about 15 million tons a year, at a time when the combined production of the whole of continental Europe probably did not exceed 3 million tons. In 1700, when British output was probably between 2.5 and 3 million tons, it has been estimated that it was five times as large as the output of the whole of the rest of the world. [Omissis] since an acre of woodland probably did not yeld more than about 2 tons of dry wood a year on a sustained basis at the most, it follows that an annual production of, say, 1 million tons of coal provided as much heat as could have been obtained form 1 million acres of forested land. One way of picturing the effect of the beginning of a capitalist element in the energy economy, therefore, is to imagine the cultivable area of the kingdom being increased by 15 million acres toward the end of George III's reign, compared with its area when Elizabeth ascended the throne." (page 54/55) "So enormous was the growth in labour productivity in agriculture [omissis] that one fiftieth of the labour force ca provide for the food needs of the whole population today whereas in organic economies the comparable fraction was commonly four-fifths, and it was evidence of the singular achievements of English agriculture in the early modern period that by 1800 only two-fifths of the adult make labour force worked in agriculture." (page 72) "The whole complex of advances is conceived as mutually reinforcing, so that a momentum of change once established may gather pace as time passes." (page 99) "Atomistic individualism [brought about by capitalism with industrial revolution] was always a convenient abstraction, never a universal historical reality. [omissis] It might be nearer the truth to say that the development of capitalism in England was conditional upon the existence of an efficient and ubiquitous welfare system [omissis]. The system of support created by the old poor law [under the reign of Elizabeth] covered much the same range of life-cycle hazards as are covered by the state today, sometimes on a relative scale uncannily similar to that current nowadays. For example, outrelief for the elderly in the eighteenth century, expressed as a fractino of the daily adult male wage, was not much different from the scale of old age pensions today, similarly expressed. The difference does not lie in the nature or scale of provision made but in the unit through which transfer payments are made; the state has replaced the parish. [omissis] it facilitated the growth of an economy where mobility was high, where contract could supplant custom, where the individual could risk losing intimate contact with kin. The obstacles to rapid economic development described by anthropologists familiar with Third World countries in the recent past were absent or much less prominent in early modern England [by the combination of a capitalist ethos and the provision of a range of welfare services acting as a 'balancing act' and 'social safety net']" (page 120/121)
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