Category Archives: economics

Backstory to the industrial revolution: conclusion

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

So, to sum up this rather long series, in which I gave a selective history of pre-industrial, post-medieval Europe, focussing on two phenomena: colonialism, and the ‘scientific revolution.’

What do those two things have to do with the Industrial Revolution?

Practical innovation

I’ll start with the scientific revolution, where the connection is easier to see. This was where the practices of modern science were born. For the first time in human history, people were developing a detailed and accurate description of how nature works. Continue reading

Backstory to the industrial revolution: part 2

Let’s continue the backstory of the Industrial Revolution where we left off. We saw that European traders briefly enjoyed direct access to eastern luxuries during the reign of the Mongols, then had it cruelly snatched away.

In this installment we’ll trace the rise of colonialism, which started as a mission to regain that access.

In the colonial era, Europeans became masters of the world’s oceans, and thereby the controllers of international trade. Eurasia and America also became linked for the first time, which would be a huge spur to European development. (Though not so great for America’s native civilizations.) Continue reading

Backstory to the industrial revolution: part 1

So to recap: I traced the roots of modern wealth to the Industrial Revolution which began in Britain in the late 18th century and spread through Europe and the United States in the 19th century. Then we got diverted into a somewhat abstract discussion of why the IR permitted such a profound transformation in living standards and human capabilities, based on the massive multipliers in energy output allowed by new technologies. Continue reading

Finding the energy

Why is the world’s wealth distributed as it is?

At the end of the last post, looking at Gapminder, we took note that the rich countries of the world could be divided up into roughly four groups. There are the states of western Europe; a few former English colonies, most notably the US; the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf; and finally the highly-industrialised countries of east Asia.

How did it come to be that way? Well, how long has it been that way? Continue reading

For richer or poorer

I want to write about a topic I don’t fully understand. In my defense, it seems like nobody else does, either. But the posts to follow will be as much about documenting my own learning process as about sharing what I already know.

Why are some countries rich, and other countries poor? That’s the question I’m interested in. How did that state of affairs come about? Why does it persist? Continue reading