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The Changes In The Economy History Essay

The transition from a worker-based cottage industry to a machine-based economy, with the growth of factories and mass production is defined as the industrial revolution. This transition is a significant historical period which changed the way many products were manufactured, from hand-held tools to machines, replacing human and animal power in production. The industrial revolution helped to bring about the modern world that we know today.

England was the first to experience the industrial revolution in 1750. Reasons to this is because of England’s wealth, a large population of upper-class middle stratum of commercial bourgeoisie which was one of the prime requisite of an industrial economy (i.e. a mass consumer market), the tradition of experimental science which created new technology and new knowledge, and the island’s geography which contributed to transportation and the abundance of natural resources. England experienced a drastic change with the revolution: workers became more productive, items were manufactured, prices dropped, making items which were difficult to process made available to the masses – it improved the standard of living for the nation in general. It also mechanized the textile industry, replacing hand-operated spinning wheels with steam power which became a technological innovation during the Industrial Revolution, driving the power looms of textile industries and the locomotives of the trains, making Britain the top cloth-producing country.

The population of England during the Industrial Revolution was divided into two classes: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. Both groups differed in ideas of culture, society, laws and general lifestyle. The Bourgeoisie was considered to be of a wealthy, well-educated, higher rank, they consisted of merchants, tradesmen, and professionals and they were in charge of factories and were involved in governmental positions – they were the class of power. The Proletariats, on the other hand, were the mere labourers. They were the working class and were controlled by the Bourgeoisie whose main concerns were with gaining wealth and maintaining a position of power over the working class. Working conditions in factories were hence neglected by the Bourgeoisie and the labourers were forced to work long days from twelve to fourteen hours under strict watch and discipline (Kagan, The Western Heritage, p519). In the working-class society, every member contributes to the income of the family just to support the family, and with the low wages workers were paid in factories, the husband’s income alone was inadequate hence women and children were brought in as labourers. The Proletariat’s working conditions were regarded insignificant by the Bourgeoisie that as quoted in Aspects of Western Civilization: Problems and Sources in History, “Night work, overtime, and the very nature of the employment, cannot but have a very disastrous influence on their health” (Rogers, P. 2007. P134). Children in the working class were seen as an economic asset and negligence was given to their education and well-being.

Without any attention brought to the working conditions of the factory Proletariats, the Industrial Revolution saw the rise of labour unions that sought to improve conditions and wages of these workers by collective bargaining and strikes. The government – controlled mainly by the bourgeoisie – limited these unions by enforcing laws and restrictions, introducing the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800, which brought labour organisations underground. The British government did however, in time, introduce numerous labour laws to protect children and women: Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 (minimum working age of children was at 9 in textile industries and maximum working hours at 12), the Regulation of Child Labour Law of 1833 (established paid inspectors to enforce the laws) and the Ten Hours of Bill 1847 (limited working hours to 10 for children and women).

Other countries which then experienced the Industrial Revolution include the United States and Japan. The driving force that made America enter the Industrial Revolution was due to the war with Great Britain in 1812 which made it apparent that America needed a better transportation system and more economic independence. The American Industrialisation involved three important developments: transportation, electricity, and industrial processes such as improving the refining process and accelerating production. America experienced a growth in a nationwide transportation network based on railroads that fuelled industrial development, the building of steel industries that integrated all stages of refinement process (i.e. from ore to finished rails), along with an enhanced communications network with the invention of telegraphs and telephones. Japan had imported the technology and ideas from Britain’s Industrial Revolution and experienced the revolution with ease due to its size, unified culture, literate population, a disciplined and well-organised labour force, improved healthcare, a well-adjusted social structure and many other factors. Japan’s communication systems and infrastructure flourished under the Industrial Revolution with numerous efforts made by the Japanese government such as: hiring of foreign experts to train Japanese workers and managers in modern industrial techniques, sponsoring the construction of railroads, opening of mines, the organization of a banking system and mechanizing industries such as ships, silk, armaments and chemicals. By 1900, Japan became the most industrialized nation in Asia.

Just as in Britain, the industrial revolution divided the classes in both America and Japan. In America, skilled tradesmen were turned into the working class, urbanisation saw a large population moving from rural to the cities where factories were located and the 19th Century America saw an influx of European immigrants who were in search of better job opportunities. In Japan, when businesses could operate without government support, they were sold to private entrepreneurs who built tremendous empires known as the ‘Zaibatsu’ (i.e. wealthy cliques), which organized around a single family. But the industrial revolution was not the main cause of the bitter feeling from the new factory Proletariat. Indeed, it did divide the social classes into the working and middle class and was the impetus of labour unions in Europe and America but the social class struggle was actually a product of early capitalism. To justify this, I will quote Karl Marx, “Capitalism production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer” (Capital: Vol 1. Chp15). Marx believed that the bourgeoisie – a part of the profit-driven capitalistic system – exploits the working class because they view the workers as part of the mechanism and not as a person. Marx notes the proletariats as seen by the bourgeoisie as merely “an appendage of the machine” (Pojman, p89). Capitalism was viewed by Marx as an exploitative system that gave the workers only a small share of the wealth that they created, it undermines social solidarity, forcing workers to compete with each other for jobs and wages, prioritised profit-making over human needs, and is authoritarian in a sense that decision-making revolved around the maximisation of profits by managers and the labourers have no real say in it.

In 1980s, a later form of capitalism was developed called ‘Corporatism’. This institutional transformation was an effort to create a more cooperative relationship both between the public and private sectors and between labour and management. It generally involved two institutional changes but I will focus on one specific change: social contracts between management and labour. The aim of these social contracts was to give as much security of employment as possible to wage-earners, in exchange for getting as acceptable a wage outlook as possible for management. Corporatism established a new social order; it is a social system that mitigates social inequality, insecurity, class conflicts while maximizing harmony of interests, sustainable economic development and collectivist ends or public goods. Corporatism did the one thing that early capitalism could not achieve – it bridged the gap between the rich and the poor and abolished the system of social class order.

(Words: 1,277)

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