The Unbound Prometheus by David Landes
Over half the French labour force was in agriculture in 1789 (perhaps 55 percent or more), and this was still true in 1866, after three quarters of a century of technological change; as recently as 1950, the proportion was still a third.
To be sure, kings could, and did, make or break the men of business; but the power of the sovereign was constrained by the requirements of the state (money was the sinews of war) and international competition. Capitalists could take their wealth and enterprise elsewhere; and even if they could not leave, the capitalists of other realms would not be slow to profit from their discomfiture.
Because of this crucial role as midwife and instrument of power in a context of multiple, competing polities (the contrast is with the all-encompassing empires of the Orient or of the Ancient World), private enterprise in the West possessed a social and political vitality without precedent or counterpart....
Take the idea and nature of property. This was often hedged around in the pre-industrial periods by restrictions on use and disposition and by complications of title. Land especially was caught up in a thicket of conflicting rights of alienation and usufruct, formal and customary, which were a powerful obstacle to productive exploitation.
Where, for example, in Europe, does one find anything comparable to the Egyptian principle that all wealth is the property of the ruler, lent by him to his subjects and taxable or confiscable at will?
There remains a strong current in popular Christianity that condemns certain acts of technological prowess as assaults on the divine order: if God had intended man to fly, He'd have given him wings.
On the other hand, the very reiteration of this theme is evidence of the persistence of the aspiration towards mastery of the environment; and indeed some would argue that the Church itself contributed unwittingly to the heresy by its sanctification of work and its opposition to animism. So long as every tree had its dryad and every fountain or stream its naiad, man was intimidated and inhibited in his confrontation with nature.
Finally, a word should be said about the role of banks and bank credit. In no country in Europe in the eighteenth century was the financial structure so advanced and the public so habituated to paper instruments as in Britain....
The role of bank credit was the more important because, in the early decades of the industrial revolution, working capital was still far more important than fixed capital...
And Pollard argues that some of the largest, most heavily capitalized enterprises of the Industrial Revolution were actually in trouble because they found it hard to raise circulating capital commensurate with the size of their fixed plant.
Nevertheless, differences in quality impose differences in costs, and in the nineteenth century especially, the distribution of coking coal -- which was particularly favorable to Britain and western Germany -- was a critical factor in the location and competitive position of metallurgical enterprise.
the major work in this area was done by one of their pupils, Joseph Whitworth, who, building on the work of his masters, worked out the standard threads for bolts and screws of all sizes and developed the gauges that bear his name. Diffusion of these principles and techniques was another matter. Whitworth's contributions go back to the 1830's and his methods wre made public in 1840, yet in 1856 he was still pleading for accuracy.
Yet the difference from the foundries and forges of the eighteenth century was more one of degree than of kind, and the social impact of this development was not so great as that of the rise of a disciplined proletariat in the textile mills.
In France, commercial enterprise had traditionally entailed derogation from noble status; and although the monarchy made repeated efforts from Louis XIII on to make trade, especially international trade, and large-scale manufacture compatible with aristocracy, it found social values more powerful than decrees.
For the British employer, the best remedy for insubordination was technological unemployment. It hardly occurred to him to allow social considerations to modify the rational organization of his enterprise. Secondly, it reveals the insecurity of the continental bourgeoisie, the deep-rooted fear of another political and social upheaval like 1789....
His French counterpart -- and to a lesser extent, the German or Belgian manufacturer -- was never sure when labour unrest or unemployment would turn into political revolution....
And when the (continental) employer forgot his obligations, the state was prepared to remind him of them. In France, the government was sensitive to factory unemployment as to nothing else, keeping close watch on hiring and firing and utilizing political pressure when necessary to limit the number of jobless, even in -- or rather, especially in -- severe crises.
The years from 1873 to 1896 seemed to many contemporaries a startling departure from historical experience. Prices fell unevenly, sporadically, but inexorably through crisis and boom -- an average of about one-third on all commodities. It was the most drastic deflation in the memory of man. The rate of interest fell too, to the point where economic theorists began to conjure with the possibility of capital so abundant as to be a free good.
food prices dropped relatively to others after 1875 as a result of massive flows of grain from the great plains and steppes of North America and South Russia and ever larger imports of meat from Argentina and of oils and fruit from tropical and semi-tropical areas. It took a combination of technological improvements to make this radical increase and diversification of Europe's food supply possible: the railroad, which linked interior agricultural regions to the sea; more efficient marine transport, which led to a sharp rise in capacity and corresponding flal in freight rates; new techniques of cultivation, especially dry farming of open plains; new methods of food conservation, among them canning and refrigeration....
The result was the highest standard of eating that the world had known. For the first time, man could afford to feed his own staff of life, grain, to animals to fatten them for his table.
France lost (after World War I) over half of her holdings abroad (23 of 45 billion) because her debtors were wiped out -- 12 billion in Russia alone. And much of what was left stopped paying interest or dividends; annual income from holdings abroad fell 8,040 million francs in 1910-13 to 2,800 millions in 1920.
By late 1928 and early 1929 American banks began calling their European loans, so that net exports of capital from the United States, which had risen from less than $200 million in 1926 to over a billion dollars in 1928, plunged to $200 million again in 1929.
This withdrawal of support putu tremendous pressure on the European banking system, particularly on the great German banks, which had always followed the policy of borrowing short and lending long. The result was a brutal contraction of credit
Weekends are made for serious financial decisions, as anyone who has followed the history of monetary devaluations knows. On Saturday the 19th, the Bank of England advised the government to go off the gold standard
In 1964, there were almost a million jobs open in Germany, but only 45,000 requests for foreign workers.