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Was there an ‘industrious revolution’ before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300–1830

It is conventionally assumed that the pre-modern working year was fixed and that consumption varied with changes in wages and prices. This is challenged by the twin theories of the ‘industrious’ revolution and the consumer revolution, positing a longer working year as people earned surplus money to buy novel goods. In this study, we turn the conventional view on its head, fixing consumption rather than labour input. Specifically, we use a basket of basic consumption goods and compute the working year of rural and urban day labourers required to achieve that. By comparing with independent estimates of the actual working year, we find two ‘industrious’ revolutions among rural workers; both, however, are attributable to economic hardship, and we detect no signs of a consumer revolution. For urban labourers, by contrast, a growing gap between their actual working year and the work required to buy the basket provides great scope for a consumer revolution.

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Article provided by Economic History Society in its journal The Economic History Review.

Volume (Year): 64 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (08)
Pages: 715-729

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Handle: RePEc:bla:ehsrev:v:64:y:2011:i:3:p:715-729
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  1. Robert C. Allen & Jacob Louis Weisdorf, 2010. "Was there an ‘Industrious Revolution’ before the Industrial Revolution? An Empirical Exercise for England, c. 1300-1830," Discussion Papers 10-14, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  2. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
  3. Gragnolati, Ugo & Moschella, Daniele & Pugliese, Emanuele, 2011. "The Spinning Jenny and the Industrial Revolution: A Reappraisal," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(02), pages 455-460, June.
  4. Robert Allen & Robert C. Allen, 2007. "The Industrial Revolution in Miniature: The Spinning Jenny in Britain, France, and India," Economics Series Working Papers 375, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  5. C. Knick Harley, 1998. "Cotton Textile Prices and the Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 51(1), pages 49-83, 02.
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