Thursday, October 31, 2013

Industrial Revolution in Britain: it was thanks to human capital

Despite the fact that it happened about 200 years ago, we are still puzzling why the Industrial Revolution happened, why it started in Britain and it happened at that moment. A sample of previous work relevant to this has been discussed on this blog: 1, 2, 3, 4. While all this is old history, it is still kind of relevant, as we are also trying to understand how to get the least developed economies to get through a similar revolution. The circumstances are different, but lessons from two centuries ago may be useful.

Morgan Kelly, Cormac Ó Gráda and Joel Mokyr add another piece to the puzzle. British men were significantly better fed and taller than their continental counterparts. They likely had better cognitive skills, too, as we know today that they correlate positively with physical health. And, the distribution of these positive traits was such that a significant share of the population had the right characteristics to participate in the Industrial Revolution. That was not the case elsewhere. Thus, good human capital and a good distribution of it are necessary for the Industrial Revolution, but likely not sufficient.

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