The Fruits of Civilization (24-3) Industrial Evolution

Industrial Evolution

The Industrial Revolution was another of those extraordinary jumps forward in the story of civilization. ~ English architect, teacher, and writer Stephen Gardiner

The term industrial revolution became common in the late 1830s. Serious scholars protested the term as inaccurate, to no avail. Catchy color commentary often trumps actuality in the popular imagination. Stephen Gardiner’s foregoing fantastic characterization is illustrative of myth perpetuation.

Although the pace picked up owing to the number of people working at it, technological advance was ever incremental during the Age of Enlightenment. Industrialization in the form of factories was a process of evolution. There was no revolution of industrial prowess, only a propagation of its application.

Scientific progress during the early modern period sowed the seeds of technological advance that led to industrial evolution. In England, the influence of philosopher, politician, and scientist Francis Bacon led to the founding of the Royal Society in 1600, “for improving Natural Knowledge.”

Knowledge is power. ~ Francis Bacon

Science was slow to lend its brain wattage to industrialization. It was not until the last half of the 19th century, with the flowering of the electrical and chemical sciences, that industry benefited from scientific theories.

In contrast, the practical part of the scientific method – observation and trial-and-error experimentation – had an increasing influence on production processes from the late 17th century on. Tinkering was not confined to men with training. Indeed, much technological advance in the 18th to early 19th centuries was the product of self-taught enthusiasm. The term engineer acquired its modern meaning in the early 18th century.

The institutional setting in Europe for the economic changes that transpired during the 19th century, especially in Britain, was a juxtaposition of conducive elements, none individually new. Rule of law for commercial concerns, social mobility, private property, and a functional private banking system all provided a framework for those with material means to exploit opportunities.

The advancement of capitalism in the Western European countries and their offshoots in the 19th century is often attributed to the spread of free trade and free market. This could not be further from the truth. The government played a leading role in the early development of capitalism both in Britain and the US, as well as in other Western European countries. ~ South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang

The sine qua non of industrialization was replacing animal power – including that of humans – with machines. Increased production did, for a time, provide jobs, albeit requiring less skill than those supplanted. This aspect of industrial evolution is familiar in the present day.

(Industrialization continued to evolve in waves. From the mid-20th century, the physical displacement of work began to take cerebral form, with computerization usurping mental labor, such as accounting and file-keeping. This trend accelerated into the 21st century with industrial robots.)

The promise economists dreamed of – of a better society – was not met. Socially, the onslaught of industrialization transformed exploited and overtaxed peasants into an exploited and overtaxed urban proletariat.

To spare the wealthy, taxes were designed to be regressive. The political influence of wealth and accompanying economic thought as to the importance of capital let money sweet talk its way to favoritism. This too was a historical constant.

Just as the pace of technology increased, so too the concentration of economic power. Amalgamation of capital became increasingly important to fund the emergent machine regime.

If there was a revolution in the making, it was within the minds of the mass populace. The stratification of society that always existed became somewhat more economic as opposed to generational, though, by virtue of inherited wealth, that too remained.

Opportunities were gradually created where more fortunate, diligent, and creative workers might transcend the socioeconomic class of their forefathers. This hope, along with propaganda by a plutocratic press, fertilized the myth that capitalism was a natural economic order.

Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class. ~ American gangster Al Capone, who understood rackets