Leander Heldring, James Robinson, Sebastian Vollmer, 18 November 2017

The Industrial Revolution is arguably the most important economic event in world history, and successful industrialisation continues to elude many developing countries today. This column argues that an important driver of industrialisation in England was the development of markets that allowed division of labour, innovation and, ultimately, social change. Institutional change, rather than advantageous geography, is the main driver of successful industrialisation in England.

David de la Croix, Matthias Doepke, Joel Mokyr, 02 March 2017

The role of specific institutions was important in giving Europe a technological advantage well before the Industrial Revolution. This column argues that apprenticeships were crucial to Europe’s rise. Unlike in the extended families or clans in other parts of the world, apprentices in Europe’s guild systems could learn from any master. New techniques and innovations could thus spread rapidly across the continent, without being constrained by family lines.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 10 February 2017

Since the Industrial Revolution, modern prosperity has spread from its European birthplace to many corners of the world. Yet the diffusion of technologies, institutions and behaviours associated with this process of economic modernisation has been unequal both over space and time. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, argues that the divergent historical paths followed by distinct populations led to barriers between them. Although these barriers are deeply rooted, their effect is not permanent and immutable.

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, 22 May 2016

Industrialisation has been the key to modern economic growth and rapidly rising incomes, but some question whether it is always a blessing when taking a broader view of human wellbeing. While the recent rise of China and other Asian economies has transformed the lives of millions, the experience of Britain in the 19th century shows a more mixed picture of development. This column presents a unified framework for measuring British wellbeing over the period 1780-1850, which shows that better health and higher income levels alternated in improving overall wellbeing, until declining health in the 1840s led to stagnating wellbeing.

Jaume Ventura, Joachim Voth, 27 July 2015

Is debt really that bad? This column looks at the towering debts, rapid tax hikes, and constant state of war that led to Britain’s Industrial Revolution, showing that the devil is in the detail when assessing sovereign debt. When we consider the dangers of debt in today’s world, we should keep an eye on its potential benefits as well.

Nico Voigtländer, Mara Squicciarini, 13 July 2014

Although studies of contemporary economies find robust associations between human capital and growth, past research has found no link between worker skills and the onset of industrialisation. This column resolves the puzzle by focusing on the upper tail of the skill distribution, which is strongly associated with industrial development in 18th-century France.

Coen Teulings, 11 July 2014

The financial crisis and the Great Recession have led to calls for more economic history in economic education. This column argues for a much broader use of history in economics courses, as a device for teaching both the logic and the empirical relevance of economics. A proposed curriculum would include the rise of agriculture, urbanisation, war, the rule of law, and demography.

Stephen Broadberry, 16 November 2013

The economic divergence we observe today was existent even a thousand years ago. Thanks to recent work on historical data, we can now trace the economic development of different countries centuries back in the past. This column discusses the roots of the Great Divergence between European and Asian economies. The column argues that divergence is due to the differential impact of shocks that hit economies with different structural features.

Nicholas Crafts, Nikolaus Wolf, 22 October 2013

Europeans worry about competition from low-wage economies. This column looks at the basis of the success of the 19th-century Lancashire cotton industry faced with a similar situation. The message is that the productivity benefits of a successful agglomeration can underpin both high wages and competitive advantage in world trade. Policymakers can support such agglomerations by easing land-use restrictions, promoting investments in transport, and providing local public goods.

Richard Pomfret, 22 May 2012

Politicians who rail against socialism or capitalism always adopt a more moderate stance after they come into office. This column argues this is because we are still experiencing the consequences of the industrial revolution. The current state of that process involves a widely accepted compromise between aggregate prosperity and distributional equality.

Tony Wrigley, 22 July 2011

Before the industrial revolution, economists considered output to be fundamentally constrained by the limited supply of land. This column explores how the industrial revolution managed to break free from these shackles. It describes the important innovations that made the industrial revolution an energy revolution.

Ralf R Meisenzahl, Joel Mokyr, 13 June 2011

The industrial revolution is, for many, the start of modern economic growth. But what started the industrial revolution? The consensus view is that scarce labour stimulated labour-saving inventions and induced innovation. This column begs to differ. It argues that it was the technical competence of the British mechanical elite that allowed great ideas to turn into economic realities.

Jan Luiten van Zanden, 26 January 2011

China has been one of the world’s most dynamic economies in recent decades, but how did it fall so far behind? This column argues that the industrial revolution occurred in Europe rather than China because European entrepreneurs were eager to adopt machines to cut down on high labour costs. China didn’t “miss” the industrial revolution – it didn’t need it.

Ludger Woessmann, Sascha O. Becker, Erik Hornung, 09 May 2010

Did education play a role in economic development during the Industrial Revolution? This column discusses new evidence from Prussia showing that formal education was critical to technology adoption in the first and second phase of the Industrial Revolution during the 19th century.

Joel Mokyr, 05 February 2010

Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his book, The Enlightened Economy, which argues that we cannot understand the Industrial Revolution without recognising the importance of the intellectual sea changes of Britain’s Age of Enlightenment. They discuss the importance of cultural beliefs for the pursuit of economic growth in today’s developing countries. The interview was recorded in San Francisco in January 2009.

Robert Allen, 15 May 2009

It is still not clear among economic historians why the Industrial Revolution actually took place in 18th century Britain. This column explains that it is the British Empire’s success in international trade that created Britain’s high wage, cheap energy economy, and it was the spring board for the Industrial Revolution.

Jane Humphries, 24 April 2008

Child labour remains a pervasive problem across the globe. This column discusses the nature of child labourers’ jobs, earnings, motivations, and well-being during the British Industrial Revolution. Their historical experience offers lessons for today’s policymakers.

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