Skip to main content

Explaining the first Industrial Revolution: two views


This review article looks at the recent books on the British Industrial Revolution by Robert Allen and Joel Mokyr. Both writers seek to explain Britain's primacy. This article offers a critical but sympathetic account of the main arguments of the two authors, considering both the economic logic and the empirical validity of their rival claims. In each case, the ideas are promising but the evidence base seems in need of further support. It may be that eventually these explanations for British economic leadership at the turn of the nineteenth century are recognized as complementary rather than competing.

Hide All
Abramovitz M. and David P. (2001). Two centuries of American macroeconomic growth: from exploitation of resource abundance to knowledge-driven development. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper no. 01–05.
Acemoglu D. (2002). Directed technical change. Review of Economic Studies 69, pp. 781809.
Acemoglu D. (2009). When does labor scarcity encourage innovation? NBER Working Paper no. 14809.
Adams D. R. (1970). Some evidence on English and American wage rates, 1790–1830. Journal of Economic History 30, pp. 499520.
Aghion P. and Howitt P. (1992). Endogenous Growth Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Allen R. C. (2009a). The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Allen R. C. (2009b). Engels’ pause: technical change, capital accumulation, and inequality in the British Industrial Revolution. Explorations in Economic History 46, pp. 418–35.
Ashton T. S. (1948). The Industrial Revolution, 17601830. London: Oxford University Press.
Baten J. and van Zanden J.-L. (2008). Book production and the onset of modern economic growth. Journal of Economic Growth 13, pp. 217–35.
Bessen J. (2003). Technology and learning by factory workers: the stretch-out at Lowell, 1842. Journal of Economic History 63, pp. 3364.
Bogart D. and Richardson G. (2008). Institutional adaptability and economic development: the property rights revolution in Britain, 1700–1830. NBER Working Paper no. 13757.
Broadberry S. and Gupta B. (2009). Lancashire, India, and shifting competitive advantage in cotton textiles, 1700–1850: the neglected role of factor prices. Economic History Review 62, pp. 279305.
Cain P. J. and Hopkins A. G. (1993). British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion 1688–1914. London: Longman.
Capie F. (2004). Money and economic development in eighteenth-century England. In de la Escosura L. Prados (ed.), Exceptionalism and Industrialisation: Britain and Its European Rivals, 1688–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carlin W. and Soskice D. (2006). Macroeconomics: Imperfections, Institutions and Policies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Casson M. (2009). The World's First Railway System: Enterprise, Competition, and Regulation on the Railway Network in Victorian Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cottrell P. L. (1980). Industrial Finance, 1830–1914. London: Methuen.
Crouzet F. (1990). Britain Ascendant: Comparative Studies in Franco-British Economic History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
David P. A. (1975). Technical Choice, Innovation and Economic Growth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Foreman-Peck J. S. (1987). Natural monopoly and railway policy in the nineteenth century. Oxford Economic Papers 39, pp. 699718.
Galor O. (2005). From stagnation to growth: Unified Growth Theory. In Aghion P. and Durlauf S. (eds.), Handbook of Economic Growth. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Habakkuk H. J. (1962). American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hicks J. R. (1932). The Theory of Wages. London: Macmillan.
Jeremy D. J. (1973). British textile technology transmission to the United States: the Philadelphia region experience, 1770–1820. Business History Review 47, pp. 2452.
Lazonick W. and Brush T. (1985). The ‘Horndal effect’ in early US manufacturing. Explorations in Economic History 22, pp. 5396.
Lindert P. H. (2009). Revealing failures in the history of school finance. NBER Working Paper no. 15491.
Macleod C. (1988). Inventing the Industrial Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mathias P. (1979). The Transformation of England. London: Methuen.
McKeown T. J. (1989). The politics of Corn Law repeal and theories of commercial policy. British Journal of Political Science 19, pp. 353–80.
McLean I. and Bustani C. (1999). Irish potatoes and British politics: interests, ideology, heresthetic and the repeal of the Corn Laws. Political Studies 47, pp. 817–36.
Mokyr J. (1990). The Lever of Riches. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mokyr J. (2002). The Gifts of Athena. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mokyr J. (2009). The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700–1850. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Musson A. E. and Robinson E. (1969). Science and Technology in the Industrial Revolution. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
North D. C. (2005). Understanding the Process of Economic Change. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
North D. C. and Thomas R. P. (1973). The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
North D. C. and Weingast B. (1989). Constitutions and commitment: evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth-century England. Journal of Economic History 49, pp. 803–32.
Rodrik D. (1997). TFPG controversies, institutions and economic performance in East Asia. CEPR Discussion Paper no. 1587.
Rubinstein W. D. (1992). The structure of wealth-holding in Britain, 1809–1839: a preliminary anatomy. Historical Research 65, pp. 7489.
Salter W. E. G. (1960). Productivity and Technical Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schonhardt-Bailey C. (2003). Ideology, party and interests in the British Parliament of 1841–47. British Journal of Political Science 33, pp. 581605.
Thompson P. (2001). How much did the Liberty shipbuilders learn? New evidence for an old case study. Journal of Political Economy 109, pp. 103–37.
Zeira J. (1998). Workers, machines and economic growth. Quarterly Journal of Economics 113, pp. 10911113.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Review of Economic History
  • ISSN: 1361-4916
  • EISSN: 1474-0044
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 34
Total number of PDF views: 146 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1254 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.