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Locating the Industrial Revolution: Inducement and Response

Author(s):Jones, Eric L.
Reviewer(s):Bogart, Dan

Published by EH.NET (December 2011)

Eric L. Jones, Locating the Industrial Revolution: Inducement and Response. Singapore: World Scientific, 2010. vii + 272 pp. $68 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-981-4295-25-3.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Dan Bogart, Department of Economics, University of California — Irvine.

The Industrial Revolution is often modeled as a national or continental phenomenon.? The most common questions are why did Britain industrialize first and not France, or why Europe and not Asia? However, there is a case to be made that the Industrial Revolution was a regional phenomenon. Here the classic question is why did northern England industrialize and southern England not. Southern England was more densely populated and had significant manufacturing ca.1700. Its de-industrialization poses a puzzle.??

Eric Jones?s most recent book, Locating the Industrial Revolution, studies the British Industrial Revolution from the perspective of the north-south divide. One of its main arguments is that pre-railway transport improvements led to more integrated product and factor markets within England and that once trade costs declined industry began to concentrate in the North and leave the South. The northward shift in manufacturing was gradual and out-migration from the South too slow to maintain southern living standards by the mid-nineteenth century.? Industrialization was painful for some in southern England.? A key question is whether the North had an initial comparative advantage in manufacturing because of natural resource advantages. Jones argues that endowments like coal did not decidedly favor the North. The argument is three-fold. First, the South had some natural resources, like timber. Second, it could have imported the resources it did not have, especially once transport costs declined. Third, southern decline included industries that did not use coal, including consumer goods industries. Although doubts are raised about the significance of coal, Jones does not put the argument entirely to rest. For some industries, like iron production, the North must have had a comparative advantage. It is possible that once these coal-using industries became concentrated in the North, firms in other industries found it economical to locate nearby. Thus there may have been little southern manufacturers could have done to stem the northward shift in industry. The key issue is whether location of workers in all sectors, including consumer goods, was largely dependent on endowments or whether other factors, like business practices, mattered too. In my opinion, the issue needs to be settled with fresh data and econometric techniques.

Jones offers an alternative theory — that southerners failed to ?respond? to northern competition, noting a lack of dynamism in its manufacturing sector. The reasons for its sluggishness are not made entirely clear.? Culture and institutions are referenced as being important factors in the industrial revolution as a national phenomenon, but they are not shown to have a bearing on the regional divergence.? For instance, Jones gives a critique of the landowning class, emphasizing their predilection for fox-hunting, conspicuous consumption, and bullying of the poor. While there is no denying that some landowners had these characteristics, it is not clear that southerners expressed them more than northerners. Perhaps what is most crucial is the relative size of the landowning class in the South. Pursuing the issue further it is not clear that blood sports and the peculiar social practices of landowners were growth retarding during early industrialization, no matter how repugnant they are to modern sensibilities. Jones argues that blood sports absorbed too much of the energy and capital of southern landowners. That may be true, but one could also argue that Britain?s landowning class played some role in propelling industrialization. They did provide much of the capital for transport improvements after all.

Borough and guild resistance to innovation is another classical explanation for southerners? failure to respond. Jones gives the example of the Exeter Weavers Company increasing its enforcement of anti-competitive practices as northern competition intensified. Although guilds are not the main focus of the book, they do raise some interesting questions for the north-south divergence. Perhaps there were some key differences in industrial practices within Britain, as there were across countries.

Transport improvements are an engine of change in Jones?s analysis. Infrastructure improvements in rivers, roads, and canals were indeed significant from 1700 to 1830. Equally important, there were technological changes in carriages and road-building and improvements in the structuring of transport firms.? The end results were a large decline in transport costs within road transport and large transport cost savings from shifting to canals and rivers. As one goes deeper there are some complications however. First, we lack estimates of the effects of transport improvements on industrial location or occupation in pre-railway Britain. Second, there is often an implicit assumption that transport changes were equal within the North and South. This may be incorrect. The North had more canals than the South and there is some evidence that southern counties spent less maintaining and improving local roads compared to northern counties. Intra-regional transport advantages could explain why the north was more responsive to the opportunities provided by a unified national market.

Jones has an interesting chapter relating to current debates about the differential fertility of the upper class. Greg Clark has argued that the rich in Britain had more children and were carriers of preferences more favorable to work and thrift.? Jones uses a study of his own ancestry to illustrate that the downwardly mobile tended to have fewer children. Some of the poorer members of the surrounding community also turned to criminal behavior.? The intention of the case study is not to settle the debate about fertility patterns and their implications for preferences, but rather to add some illustrations to the statistical abstractions offered in other studies.

Overall, Locating the Industrial Revolution is a welcome contribution to the literature. Most importantly, it incorporates and emphasizes spatial analysis in studying the industrial revolution. Those interested in the sources of industrial success will profit from its reading.

Dan Bogart has recently written ?Did the Glorious Revolution Contribute to the Transport Revolution? Evidence from Investment in Roads and Rivers,? Economic History Review (November 2011), as well as other work on Britain?s transport development during industrialization.

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Subject(s):Economic Development, Growth, and Aggregate Productivity
Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Urban and Regional History
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century