Essay: Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution
This article was originally written and posted on my previous blog on October 30th, 2013. It, as of December 26th, 2015, has gotten over 20,000 views, making it the most viewed post I’ve ever published. I’ve transferred it to this site completely unedited.
How far do you agree that the contribution of capitalists was the most important cause of the Industrial Revolution?
The Industrial Revolution has four major causes that are discussed about frequently in a learning environment. Capitalism, however, is the most important cause of the Industrial Revolution. Capitalism allowed the new generation of people to gain money and become involved and interested in the idea of investment. The investments allowed inventors and entrepreneurs to build the inventions that rocked the world, such as the blast furnace, railroads, vaccinations and much more. Private investments, which are a form of capitalism, became a huge factor in allowing countries, such as Great Britain, to succeed in industrialization faster than other European countries, such as the Germanic states.Although some could attempt to argue that another major cause, such as the Agriculture Revolution, would be the most important, they would fail to take notice of Great Britain’s capitalist policies and their connections to how fast countries industrialized.
Capitalism, the most important cause of the Industrial Revolution, allowed the brand new generation of inventors and scientists the investments and income needed to develop their new technological advances. The largest advances during the Industrial Revolution, such as the blast furnace, the railways that connected industrializing cities to vast amounts of natural resources, and other inventions were all funded by private investors and national banks (in countries such as Great Britain, which industrialized much faster during the first Industrial Revolution). Capitalism allowed those inventions to be created and developed through loans and funds. Had it not been for the new urge to industrialize and endorse capitalism, these inventions and new technologies would have never been able to become a reality due to the fact that their creators would not have had a source of income to push said inventions into the light of day. These loans from either private investors or, in Great Britain’s case, national banks, finally allowed these great technologies a chance to actually be created and widely used, since railways (funded by capitalists, except in Russia’s case, who believed railways would provoke ‘unneeded travel’) could transport the machinery and technology much farther for much less money.
Another important factor in the race to industrialize would have to be the capitalist ideals endorsed by Great Britain’s national banks. It was far easier to receive a loan from highly industrialized economies (ie. Britain), and these developing nations had high amounts of working class citizens an opportunity to get rich quick by either investing in or endorsing the industrialization process started by capitalist intentions. The commercial farming may have contributed to the production of food, and may have led to new technologies, but, these commercial farms would not have been accepted without some form of capitalist investments and government involvement. Without capitalism’s heavy impact on the pre-Industrial societies, mankind would have been unable to progress forward to become industrial societies, and large working classes allowed fast production of said goods. While Britain had a very large and stable middle class, Russia had less than 2% of their total population in their working class. And, as you can see, Britain industrialized much faster than Russia, and any other European country during the first industrial revolution.
Some could argue that the Industrial Revolution’s greatest cause would be the Agricultural Revolution, which allowed countries to gain food to begin a demographic boom that would eventually connect in this domino effect to the Industrial Revolution. Although these people may have decent examples and so-called evidence, they would be wrong. While the agricultural revolution’s movements did in fact quote unquote start the Industrial Revolution, the highly commercial farming techniques and technology that led to it as well was in fact caused by the involvement of capitalists and investors. The agricultural revolution was a cause in the revolutions ahead, but, as stated before, without the involvement of capitalism, the new technologies and equipment that made the agrarian societies obsolete were funded and caused by capitalism. One could argue that the revolution’s food production caused by the need of more agriculture due to the demographic boom weighs more than capitalism. However, capitalism was what actually allowed greater amounts of food to be produced in the first place.
The Industrial Revolution has many causes that led up to what it became in history. Some argue, or at least attempt to, that the agriculture revolution, or new technologies such as steam power, were the most important of the group. However, if one were to look behind the causes of the causes, one would see that behind the finances of the agriculture progress and new technologies lies capitalism. For without capitalism, none of these other causes and reasons would have happened during this period of time, and the massive change that appeared would have been postponed or cancelled all together. The countries that accepted capitalism and made it easy for new investors to receive loans, such as Britain, industrialized faster than others, while countries that refused to allow national loans, such as France, and private investments, such as Russia, failed to industrialize as fast and did not succeed as fast as they could have if they would have followed the footsteps — or rather paved highway — left behind by the involvement and contribution of capitalism.
Some articles you might enjoy:
- US vs. Great Britain (racheldhistoryblog.wordpress.com)
- Rethinking the Industrial Revolution (geoffkennedy.org)
- Industrial revolution (jorduvall.wordpress.com)
- Robert Allen: The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (delong.typepad.com)
- The Industrial Revolution (5j2014missobrien.wordpress.com)