Dropping back into normality

There is one invention more than any other that was responsible for the Industrial Revolution (IR). Without it, the IR would simply have not happened as explosively as it did from the 1780s and onwards. It is the steam engine, initially used for pumping out water from coal mines. Even while the steam engine was at a relatively crude state of development, it was already being used in dozens of coal mines in this country allowing them to go deeper than ever before — thus magnifying the amount of coal produced from decade to decade.

Most of the coal at thst time was used for domestic fireplaces in this country but, as the steam engine became much more efficient — by recycling copious waste heat instead of throwing it away at every stroke — then more coal was available to be used for steam engines in the new cotton-spinning factories of the North of England. Up until then, dependent as they were on the motive power from water mills only, cotton-spinning — and, subsequently, cotton-weaving and colour printing factories — would only have developed at a sedate pace during the rest of the 19th century. The IR would scarcely have been noticeable.

Instead, the cotton industry grew at a ferocious rate and its massive profits were able to be fed into investments in developing the railways, the iron and steel industry and so on. The IR was able to continue at a fast rate — variously between 2% and 4% per annum for the rest of the century and, indeed, for most of the 20th century also. But the IR declined steeply in the advanced countries from the 1980s — when average wages in real money terms started to decline.

Despite what advanced governments wish for, the 2008 Great Recession gave us warning that the IR is now over and done with. In erms of economic growth, all the main advanced economic blocs — Japan, America, Europe, UK — have now stabilised at the sort of figures — 0.1% to 0.5% per annum (at the most) — that have always applied as civilisation developed from about 8,000 years ago. Most people in the advanced countries are content with those rates of ‘growth’ — so long as governments can prevent them going negative!

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