Why did the industrial revolution take place in 18th century Britain and not elsewhere in Europe or Asia? Robert Allen argues that the British industrial revolution was a successful response to the global economy of the 17th and 18th centuries. He shows that in Britain wages were high and capital and energy cheap in comparison to other countries in Europe and Asia. As a result the breakthrough technologies of the industrial revolution – the steam engine, the cotton mill, and the substitution of coal for wood in metal production – were uniquely profitable to invent and use in Britain. The high wage economy of pre-industrial Britain also fostered industrial development since more people could afford schooling and apprenticeships. It was only when British engineers made these new technologies more cost-effective during the 19th century that the industrial revolution would spread around the world.
About the Speaker
Robert Allen is Professor of Economic History at Oxford University and a fellow of Nuffield College. He has written on English agricultural history, international competition in the steel industry, the extinction of whales, and contemporary policies on education. His articles have won the Cole Prize, the Redlich Prize, and the Explorations Prize. New books include Enclosure and the Yeoman: The Agricultural Development of the South Midlands, 1450–1850 (2009), andThe British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (2009). Currently, he is studying the global history of wages and prices and pre-industrial living standards around the world.
Professor Robert C Allen FBA