Understanding Economic Development

Understanding Economic Development

A Global Transition from Poverty to Prosperity?

Colin White

This fascinating book considers one of the most important problems in economics: the inception of modern economic development. There is at present no satisfactory explanation of the inception of modern economic development; an excessive focus on either pure theory or on unique histories limits the explanatory power. This book realises the need to integrate the two approaches, moving beyond the proximate causes of economic theory to review the role in an analytic narrative of significant ultimate causes – geography, risk environments, human capital, and institutions.

Chapter 12: Continuity and Discontinuity: The Meaning of the Industrial Revolution

Colin White

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics


A revolution in men’s access to the means of life, in control of their ecological environment, in their capacity to escape from the tyranny and niggardliness of nature . . . it opened the road for men to complete mastery of their physical environment, without the inescapable need to exploit each other. (Perkin 1969: 3–5, quoted by Mokyr 1999: 6) The main focus of this book is the process by which modern economic development has been initiated. It is therefore illuminating to consider the nature of an analytic narrative of the pioneer experience, the British Industrial Revolution.1 The first transition is unique, if only because the existence of a prior inception colours all later experiences, notably through demonstration effects and competitive pressures. In the absence of an industrial revolution in Britain, the inception would probably have occurred elsewhere, in France, the USA or Japan, for example. It is necessary to explore the ways in which that inception occurs, to see what is shared with others, and to consider how far the pioneer model, or models, were diffused to other economies. Are there patterns of development, and different narratives, which would support the notion of convergence clubs? One issue of particular interest is the differing mix of revolutionary and evolutionary elements of change. The first section considers the nature of a grand narrative for a general account of modern economic development. It explores a number of statements of the main empirical tendencies associated with modern economic development, often referred to as stylised facts....

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