chapter 9:  the industrial revolution

Throughout much of the agrarian era, the rate of technological innovation was less than one would expect in view of the size of agrarian societies, the amount of information available, and the extent of contact.  The cause of this lay in the highly exploitative social systems and ideologies that shaped economic attitudes and activities and created a negative feedback effects (239).

Late in the agrarian era, however, the rate of innovation in western Europe increased substantially within a relatively short period of time, and by the latter part of the 18th century the Industrial Revolution was well under way.  Not long thereafter, England became the 1st truly industrial society—that is, the first to derive more than half its income from productive activities involving machines powered by inanimate energy sources (239).

causes of the industrial revolution

The Accumulation of Information in the Agrarian Era

Probably the least heralded of the major causes of the Industrial Revolution was the gradual accumulation of technological information throughout the agrarian era (239).

Advances in Water Transportation and the Conquest of the New World

Those innovations with a potential for altering agrarian social structure and ideology were the most important for societal change and in this respect, improvements in ships and navigation proved to be some of the most critical (240).  Among the most important innovations were:

1.      acquisition of the compass;

2.      invention of the stern rudder;

3.      construction of larger ships; and

4.      substitution of several smaller sails for a single large sail.

These innovations allowed western sailors to venture out into open seas for extended periods.  During the 15th century they began a series of voyages intended to find new trade routes to India and China that would enable them to bypass merchants of the Middle East.  Instead they discovered the New World and 50 years late conquered the Incan empire in Peru and the Aztec empire in Mexico (240).

Almost immediately the conquerors began to ship vast quantities of gold and silver back to Europe.  This had several important consequences:

1.      a tremendous growth in the money economy and decline in the older barter system thereby breaking down barriers to technological innovation; and

2.      it produced inflation creating a marked improvement in the position of the merchants relative to the governing class (242).

As a result of these consequences, power changed to merchants, people oriented to rational profit making and motivated to provide financial support for technological innovations that would increase the efficiency of people and machines.  Furthermore, the center of world trade shifted for the 1st time in 5000 years as western Europe replaced the Middle East in the favored position (242).  Never before in history had technologically advanced societies enjoyed such a favorable ration of resources to population (242).

The Printing Press and the Spread of Information

The printing press was another technological innovation that played an important role in helping western Europe societies break the traditional agrarian mold.  Printing sped the dissemination of both new technological and ideological information and a major factor in overcoming resistance to innovation and change (243).  One of its most significant applications of the printing press occurred less than a century after its invention when it was used to spread the teachings of the Protestant reformers and, in turn, becoming a major factor in the success of the Protestant movements thereby spreading the Protestant work ethic (244)

Advances in Agriculture

Throughout the agrarian era, the chief restraint on societal growth and development was the state of agriculture technology.  The rural elite, so long as it managed to extract a surplus sufficient to maintain its customary lifestyle, was content to preserve the status quo.  And the peasants, so long as they managed simply to survive, were content to follow the practices inherited from their forebears—or if not content, at least not motivated to change them (245).

In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, agriculture in Europe became more profit-oriented, capitalistic, and less governed by tradition and custom.  It became further so in the 18th century as inflation forced farmers to further innovate to compete.  Some of the innovations include:

1.      crop rotation

2.      selective breeding

3.      invention of simple machines to reduce labor

4.      dissemination of technical information concerning farming

5.      enclosing common lands.

By the end of the 18th century, the traditional system of agriculture had been replaced in most of England by a new system of larger, more efficient farms operated on rational and capitalistic principles (246).

A Model of the Causes of the Industrial Revolution

The basic causes of the Industrial Revolution (IR) was the growing store of technological information in the latter part of the agrarian era and the transformation of the previous negative feedback effect into a positive one (246).

a brief history of the industrial revolution

To be meaningful, the term IR should be limited to the period during which the productive activities of societies were rapidly transformed by the invention of a succession of machines powered by newer, inanimate sources of energy, such as coal, electricity, petroleum, and natural gas (248)  There are 4 phases to this period:

First Phase:   (mid 18th century) the innovation of the 1st true steam engine and advances in textile, iron, and coal industries;

Second Phase:  (mid 19th century) the rapid growth of the railroad industry, mass production of steel, replacement of sail ships with steamships, and the use of new technology in agriculture;

Third Phase:  (turn of the century) the rapid growth of the automobile, electrical, telephone, and petroleum industries; and

Fourth Phase:  (WW II) developments in aviation, aluminum, electronics, plastics, nuclear power, computers, and automation (248)

causes of continuing industrial revolution

As the 20th century draws to a close, the technological revolution that began in the 18th century shows no signs of abating and the rate of innovation continues to accelerate (260).

Greater Informational Resources and a Larger Population

The existing store of useful information about the material world is far greater today than ever before and the informational resources available to would-be innovators today are vastly greater than in the past.  Because the population is larger, this means there are more minds at work on the problems concerning human societies (261).

Changing Attitudes Toward Innovation

In contemporary industrial societies, in contrast, the attitude towards innovation and change is largely positive.  Members are not just tolerant of innovation:  the actively promote and encourage it.

The Rise of Modern Science

The emergence of science as a major new institutional system is another development that has contributed greatly to the continuing revolution in technology.  Science is the search for general and abstract principles that explain the world.  Technology is information about specific ways in which the world can be manipulated (262).

The Threat of War

Prior to the IR, military technology changed slowly.  As a result, successes depended on the size of armies and the organizational and tactical skills of commanders.  Today, military technology becomes obsolete in a very short time and the size of armies and their commanders’ skills are less important than the productive capacity of a nation’s economy and the skills of its engineers and scientists (263).

Environmental Feedback

For the 1st time in history, the most significant changes in the biophysical environment are not the result of natural forces, but of human actions.  The global ecosystem now has to support a much larger human population and standards of living are rising.  As a result we have a depletion of resources and unanticipated side effects from technologies (263).

The Desire for Ever Higher Standards of Living

One of the most important factors responsible for the continuing IR is the desire of most people for every higher standards of living.  This appears to be part of our genetic heritage (264).

varying levels of industrialization in the world SYSTEM of societies

Societies today differ enormously in the degree to which they have industrialized.  Unfortunately, there is no single measure of industrialization that enables us to gauge perfectly the degree to which contemporary societies have adopted industrial technology (264).

When we consider the distribution of these societies on a map of the world, it becomes clear that all of the technologically most advanced societies are in temperate regions, while nearly all of the least advanced are located in tropical or semitropical regions.  This is no coincidence.  Rather, it is an indication of the importance of the biophysical environment (266).

consequences of the industrial revolution

Initial Consequences

The 1st indication of change came with the invention of the new spinning and weaving machines which necessitated the creation of factories.  Factories, however, required a concentrated supply of dependable labor causing a migration to urban areas and a disruption of social relationships.  Long-standing ties of kinship and friendship were severed and could not easily be replaced, while local customs and institutions that had provided rural villagers with some measure of protection and support were lost for good (267).

The misery of the new urban dwellers was compounded by the harshness of the factory system, which often operated along quasi-penal lines.  Regardless of how hard life had been before, country folk had some control over their hourly movements, but now work was more arduous and restrictive.  Women and children, though they had always worked in homes and fields, now worked in factories with dangerous machinery in dangerous working conditions.  Minor infractions of complex rules, such as whistling on the job or leaving a lamp lit a few minutes too long after sunrise, led to finds, more serious infractions to floggings.  One observer of the period wrote poignantly of hearing children, whose families could not afford clocks, running through the streets in the dark, long before the mills opened, so fearful were they of being late (268).

Long-Run Consequences:  An Overview

1.      World population multiplied 7 fold from 725 millions to more than 5 billion since 1750.

2.      Rural-urban balance has reversed where in agrarian societies 90% were rural, today from 70-90% are urban.

3.      The largest urban communities of the industrial era are nearly 20 times the size of the largest in the agrarian era.

4.      Women in industrial societies give birth to only about a third as many children.

5.      Life expectancy at birth is almost 3 times greater.

6.      The family is no longer a significant productive unit in the economy.

7.      The role and status of women in the economy has changed.

8.      The role and status of youth has changed and youth cultures have become a significant factor.

9.      The average per capita production and consumption of goods and services in advanced industrial societies is at least 10 times greater.

10.  The division of labor is more complex.

11.  Hereditary monarchical government has disappeared in industrial societies, except as a ceremonial and symbolic survival, and the proprietary theory of state has vanished entirely.

12.  The functions and powers of government have been vastly enlarged.

13.  Free public educational systems have been established and illiteracy has been largely eliminated in industrial societies.

14.  New ideologies have spread widely such as socialism, capitalism, nationalism, and pragmatism.

15.  The speed of travel has increased 100 times and the speed of communication 10 million times.

16.  A global culture has begun to emerge.

17.  Several societies have acquired the capacity to obliterate the entire human population (270-271).