Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Did the Industrial ‘Revolution’ Occur in Britain?: a contribution to a debate at Marginal Revolution

For the debate see Marginal Revolution Blog

“In one part of the UK, Scotland, the events around the tail-end of Scotland being an independent country from the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 did have a profound effect, directly related to the catholic-protestant divide (and the divide within the protestant church). There was much religious strife, including violence, in which many prominent Scottish aristocrats suffered grievously (thumb screw treatment, etc.).

The survival of the national Church of Scotland was a major issue in the debates from 1703 to the Act of Union with England in 1707. Should the catholic ex-king James 3rd of England and 8th of Scotland return to power in a counter-revolution (the Jacobites, English and Scottish), this would return religious strife to Scotland.

Thus, many pro-Scottish aristocrats switched to supporting Union once the English accepted the independence of the Church of Scotland and the limitation of the Church of England to south of the border. This political battle, following the disaster of the Darien ‘colony’, divided Scotland roughly between its backward and catholic highland region and its protestant (various sects) lowlands.

Adam Smith senior played a role in the pro-Union causes; his son benefited for that connection in his efforts to become, first a Minister at Oxford, and then a professor in Glasgow. By the 1750s, Scotland (especially Glasgow) benefited from the British colonial trade; and from inter-British trade with England. The agricultural reforms and ‘improvements’ initiated by the Dukes of Argyle and the 3rd Duke’s expensive experiment sin industrial chemistry (he set up works to produce sellable products with local entrepreneurs and sponsored much scientific research).

These institutional changes added to the commercialisation of the UK (less so the Highlands which remained rebellious and poor), which over the century added to the events leading to what some people call the industrial revolution. James Watt was employed at Glasgow University where he innovated Newcomen’s steam engine, using a teaching model that had broken down (Smith was on the Senate that appointed him).

The Scottish Enlightenment developed among a core group of intellectuals, chemists, metallurgists, geologists, mathematicians, moral philosophers, divines and literary figures, all of whom knew each other, argued, corresponded, past around their papers, and mixed with those on the ground working away at their commercial and agricultural projects that were to transform the country by the mid-19th century.

Much of this groundwork does not show up in data about finances, trade, and living standards. But it does place the events around 1688 and afterwards into a growth-inducing frame."


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