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Stanford scholar says war drove 18th-century British industrial revolution

August 18, 2019


Stanford University. The firearms industry is
a really important case for looking at how war drove
the Industrial Revolution. The fact that Britain was
at war almost continuously during the long 18th century
may have had something to do with this enormous
economic transformation that takes place in exactly
the same period. With respect to the
firearms industry itself, you see an industrial
revolution within that industry. At the beginning of
the 18th century, British gunmakers can
only make about tens of thousands of guns per year. But by the end of the century
in 1815, they can make millions. And they did that in
various different ways. The Office of Ordinance starts
playing with price mechanisms. They’re playing with design. When there’s a
bottleneck in production of a particular part of the
gun, they intervene and provide incentives to train more
workers to be able to make that particular part. So they’re experimenting
with industrial organization constantly. We can imagine how
state purchasing could have had a similar effect
in so many other related industries, everything from
finance to buckle making to woolens and so
on and so forth, because the government needed
so many things to prosecute these wars that were huge
logistical challenges. I mean, the wars
in the 18th century just get bigger and
bigger, and they’re fought all over the world. By looking at the
Industrial Revolution again and seeing that there
was a huge role for this state, and not only the
state but for war, I think that really
forces us to rethink our assumptions about what
really drives economic growth. And I think we also
need to appreciate more the central place of war
and manufacturing related to war in creating the modern
industrial life that is now the norm for all of us. For more, please visit
us at stanford.edu.

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