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Sunday
May142017

RS 184 - Gregory Clark on "What caused the industrial revolution?"

Release date: May 14th, 2017

Gregory Clark

Nothing changed the course of human history as much as the industrial revolution. Yet its cause is a mystery: Why did it occur in the late 1700s, and not sooner (or later)? Why did it occur in Britain, a relatively small and geographically isolated country, and not somewhere much bigger like China, or elsewhere in Northern Europe like the Netherlands? This episode features economic historian Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Alms and one of the leading scholars of the industrial revolution. Greg and Julia explore different theories, as well as the epistemological challenges of answering this kind of causal question about history.

Gregory's Pick: "Ache Life History" by Kim Hill and Magdalena Hurtado

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

 

Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (12)

I know Julia isn't an adversarial interviewer, which is a good thing of course, not to even challenge "efficiency increases in the american south's cotton industry", and the "benign British rule of India"? This one was a real jaw-clencher for me.
May 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEran
I was about to ask him about "benign," but I thought Greg's follow up comments made it clear that he didn't mean the British rule did no harm, or moral wrong, to Indians -- he meant British rule was relatively non-interventionist in the structure of the Indian economy. (I don't know enough about the Indian economy under British rule to know how true that claim is, but it certainly wasn't obviously wrong to me.)

The comment about cotton in the American South seemed plenty clear to me; one can certainly believe *both* (1) slavery was a morally indefensible atrocity, and also (2) efficiency in cotton production increased. There's no contradiction there.
May 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJulia
Great conversation. I was a little surprised that your guest didn't bring up the theoretical framework for the Industrial Revolution proposed by Ian Morris in his book Why The West Rules - For Now. As an anthropologist, his views seemed to offer a fare basis for discussion and advance a very systemic view of the revolution based on the idea that the course of history as defined by geography and the ability of Western core societies (think near east to north east Europe) increased the probability that Europe, and especially a region with the greatest access to resources via trade routes, would be the first society to develop a leap in harnessing energy (steam, electricity etc). All of the elements Morris covers (naval power, access to resources, population pressure leading to pressures to innovate to meet demands) were covered in the interview without referencing his work.

Great podcast nevertheless. Really enjoyed it.
May 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTimur
I think the author is overfitting the data. Given all the correct ingredients, the industrial revolution might have a 1 in 20 chance of happening. So, why did it happen in Northern England; maybe they got lucky. Assuming luck is not as much fun as assuming English superman.
May 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarbone
There's no account for the unic invention originated in the seventeenth century agrarian england. History of capitalism record this contingency as a completely new type of social relations set to transform (often brutally) almost every aspect of human activity afterwords. Extreme efficientizacion in the production process as a direct consequence of the new social paradigm, very likely, played a big role in the industrial revolution. But I almost forgot, we"re evolved capitalists.
May 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterraducu427
Please don't say England when you mean the United Kingdom or Great Britain. Adam Smith and James Watt were not Englishmen.
May 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMontgomery Scott
The host really needs to learn to be quiet when their guest is speaking. In this particular interview it was more annoying than usual, but in general making the "continue, continue" noises which may be apropriate in a face to face conversation end up being intrusive and annoying in an interviews.
May 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterScobberlotcher
I apologize for the delay, and thank you for responding.

Regarding the non-inverventionism and benignity of British Raj, while British rhetoric at the time was all "laissez faire", large scale construction of rail, high taxation, and the general bending of the economy to supplying raw materials to British manufacturers went contrary to that. Not surprising since the non-inverventionism rhetoric was a tool to convince the British public/government that the empire wasn't costing them, not some moral principle.

As to benignity, British rule non interventionist rhetoric WAS followed it came to actually feeding their subjects, including during massive droughts. Kinda hard to innovate, or "fall in love with science" when tens of millions of your people are being starved to death.

Regarding slavery, moral considerations be where they may, I was referring to the economic impacts of having swaths of your population kidnapped and treated as property. Makes it difficult to innovate, or "fall in love with science", I'd say.
May 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEran
==economic impacts of having swaths of your population kidnapped and treated as property. Makes it difficult to innovate, or "fall in love with science", I'd say.===

Speculation, at best. Just because you dislike something doesn't mean that it has uniformly bad effects.
May 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres
Thanks for bringing up this topic and guest. It is both an important question by itself (what are the causal factors?) and raises difficult epistemological questions too (how can we know?).
Deidre McCloskey also tried to tackle the question in her recent trilogy. She might be an interesting guest.

I was also glad that the topic of intellectual property came up.
It is my understanding as well that it's not clear that copyright/patent laws improve innovation. You mentioned the steam engine situation as an illustration of the minefield effect. There was a similar situation with aviation (the Wright brothers stymied innovation in the US with their patents), as discussed in "Against Intellectual Monopoly" (Levine and Boldrin).
I'd love to hear further discussions on the topic.
June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJulien Couvreur
What a great podcast. Fascinating subject and really good interview technique. My new favourite to do bike maintenance to :)
June 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGene
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June 21, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterwwwgmail.com sign up

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