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The Industrial Revolution and British Society

Economic historian Joel Mokyr argued that political fragmentation (the presence of a large number of European states) made it possible for heterodox ideas to thrive, as entrepreneurs, innovators, ideologues and heretics could easily flee to a neighboring state in the event that the one state would try to suppress their ideas and activities. This is what set Europe apart from the technologically advanced, large unitary empires such as China and India by providing “an insurance against economic and technological stagnation”.[198] China had both a printing press and movable type, and India had similar levels scientific and technological achievement as Europe in 1700, yet the Industrial Revolution would occur in Europe, not China or India. In Europe, political fragmentation was coupled with an “integrated market for ideas” where Europe’s intellectuals used the lingua franca of Latin, had a shared intellectual basis in Europe’s classical heritage and the pan-European institution of the Republic of Letters.[199]

In addition, Europe’s monarchs desperately needed revenue, pushing them into alliances with their merchant classes. Small groups of merchants were granted monopolies and tax-collecting responsibilities in exchange for payments to the state. Located in a region “at the hub of the largest and most varied network of exchange in history,”[200] Europe advanced as the leader of the Industrial Revolution. In the Americas, Europeans found a windfall of silver, timber, fish, and maize, leading historian Peter Stearns to conclude that “Europe’s Industrial Revolution stemmed in great part from Europe’s ability to draw disproportionately on world resources.”[201]

Modern capitalism originated in the Italian city-states around the end of the first millennium. The city-states were prosperous cities that were independent from feudal lords. They were largely republics whose governments were typically composed of merchants, manufacturers, members of guilds, bankers and financiers. The Italian city-states built a network of branch banks in leading western European cities and introduced double entry bookkeeping. Italian commerce was supported by schools that taught numeracy in financial calculations through abacus schools.[194]