ABSTRACT. The author shows how Great Britain owed its rise in power to its naval predominance, followed by its commercial predominance that culminated in the 19th century. The importance of its colonial empire, much more important than that of its rivals in the mid-19th century, resulted from this naval predominance. By allowing a large number of necessary raw materials to be obtained at the best price, this became a key driver of the strong economic transformation.
RÉSUMÉ. L'auteur montre combien c'est à sa prédominance navale que la Grande-Bretagne doit sa montée en puissance puis, bientôt, sa prédominance au plan commercial qui culminera au XIXe siècle. L'importance de son empire colonial, de beaucoup plus conséquent que ceux de ses rivaux au milieu du XIXe siècle, découle de cette prédominance navale. En permettant d'obtenir au meilleur coût et en grande quantité les matières premières nécessaires, il sera à son tour un principal moteur de forte transformation économique.
Any comparison of the total area of the world with the size of Great Britain, its major economic power in the 18th and 19th centuries, provides a rather stark contrast. Of the surface area of the world 70% is ocean and only 30% is land. The most economically developed continent of the time, Europe, accounted for less than 7% of the world's land area, and Great Britain, its richest nation, accounted for 0.0014% of the world's land area. Even if one allows for the importance of British colonies in 1880, it is striking that so small an area of land (0.130%) could have achieved world domination for over two centuries.
There is some debate among economists about the optimum size of countries and also the optimum size distribution of countries required to promote economic development. Arguments, based on the success of the European continent in achieving economic growth and development, claim that a system of relatively small nations, in competition with each other, can provide the best condition for economic success, given that this may possibly provide more homogeneity of the population's tastes and beliefs and a greater extent of political agreement.