Unless you’re me... Economic history is rarely that exciting.
But right now it really is. And the wonders of twitter and the internet mean we can watch a debate play out in real time.
So please excuse a mini thread (especially from an interested amateur rather than a participant)
Right now, there’s a very active debate on the origins of industrial revolution.
Why should we care? Firstly because the IR was probably “the key event” in human history.
It’s when - for many - life stopped being nasty, brutish and short.
And even leaving that aside - understanding why countries have successfully industrialised in the past has important lessons for many parts of the world today.
Amongst economists & economic historians, the leading theory (although by far from the only one!) as to why the IR happened when (and crucially *where* ) it did has been Bob Allen’s High Wage Economy (HWE) theory. The book version is here: amazon.co.uk/Industrial-Rev…
The one tweet version: “Britain had unusually high wages compared to much of Europe (a legacy of more colonial trade) and easy access to coal. High wages and cheap energy made the introduction of labour saving technology profitable in Britain when it wouldn’t have been elsewhere”
The other current leading argument is from Mokyr and focus more on culture. The book version of that is here press.princeton.edu/titles/10835.h…
But I highly recommend @de1ong’s review here for an introduction: nature.com/articles/53845…
Even those who haven’t accepted Allen’s theory entirely have seen it as important. Nick Crafts has provided one version of an Allen/Mokyr synthesis.
Perhaps Allen explains the demand for innovation & Mokyr it’s supply?
But in the past couple of weeks a couple of very important papers have been published challenging the very idea that British (or specially English) wages were actually that high.
Both - (one by focussing on woman and children) and one by reexamining the historical evidence question how high British wages actually were. Eg, from the first paper.
Allen has already replied - is doubling down. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.111…
But there are now serious questions of the data. Is cheap coal alone enough?