'The Holy Land of Industrialism': rethinking the Industrial Revolution

by Joel Mokyr

11 Aug 2021
Journal of the British Academy, volume 9 (2021)
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Abstract: Various explanations of Britain’s economic technological leadership between 1760 and 1850 have been proposed for many decades and have dealt with many aspects of British society: politics, natural resources, and its Empire. One of the less-discussed hypotheses places the emphasis on the quality of its workforce: the most skilled workers in Britain such as engineers, instrument-makers, and millwrights. These workers were the ones who actually put into practice the innovative blueprints and models of the inventors. On the eve of the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s high-skilled workers were superior to those anywhere else, and this difference was a critical element in its technological performance during the Industrial Revolution. The institution that produced this superior competence was British apprenticeship, which was the chief source of technical human capital in this age.

Keywords: Industrial Revolution, Skills, Human Capital, Apprenticeship, Institutions.

Keynes Lecture in Economics, read 25 September 2019.

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