Friday, March 17, 2017

Following Up Follow Ups About Following Up: Exports, Fashion and the Warfare State

The mysterious Pseudoerasmus asks:

"Why are they wrong? Because their paradigm is the postwar neo-liberal (or whatever we're calling it now) world order, in which democracies and semi-democracies trade with each other in pursuit of shared prosperity, in which the only unsightly slopes on the otherwise level playing field of comparative advantage are tariffs, subsidies and gaming the exchange rate. The only way in which the state is supposed to intervene is by producing (and equitably disbursing) unlimited quantities of education/research spending; and by fine-tuning tax policy."

This is quite untrue. Allen's model (as well are critiques of Allen's model) are perfectly compatible with a world in which external trade is driven by mercantilism and imperialism. In fact, in his book Allen explicitly stresses the importance of imperialism in enlarging the domestic market, and market size is an important element of his model."

This is a blog about hillside pastures, fodder crops and the things (like cavalry warfare) that flow from them;
 And, oh, yes. The endogeneity of technological change.  I hope that it is also a place where I can be unembarrassed about offering an obsequious welcome and preemptive apology to such a distinguished visitor without being embarrassed. Watching the debut of Iron Fist instead of replying at greater length? About that I'm embarrassed. 

We have two questions here, then: the cycle of technological innovations which occurred in the United Kingdom during the long Eighteenth Century; and the economic expansion that took place there. If I am right about the endogeneity of technological change, then the two are more-or-less the same thing. If I'm wrong, we have to invert the ideological inversion and search for our explanation in the superstructure. (Liberalism, toleration, Protestantism). 

If the latter, we have to engage the narrative that defines the English superstructure ("culture," whatever) as something special and nice. If we do that, we're back in the position of the person puzzled to find that the toddler is always surrounded by a mess. I just don't think that that's a productive way to go, and I don't just say that as a Habsburg specialist exposed to two centuries of rationalisations about how England (also Scotland; definitely not Ireland) is so much nicer than other places. So I'd really rather build from fundamentals. Wages! Wages seem like an awesome fundamental!

Pseudoerasmus and Brad Delong  raise questions about the robustness of the wage date. That's good! That's awesome! We have enough trouble sorting out wages these days without plunging into the incomplete data (notice the holes in the table I pasted in from Word --Where it looked much better, I swear. Even D. W. Jones can't tell you what England exported in 1696. Sorry.) So maybe we can sort out the problem from the data we've got? For example, that exports of kerseys to the Low Countries rose from 27,700 pieces in 1686 (total exports 47,817) to 38,725 pieces in 1693 (44,701), 45,324 in 1695 (61,491), then falling back to 41,000 in 1702 before rising to fluctuate between a low of 51,000 and a high of 65,000 during the war years? 

What we're talking about when we talk about kersey.
What happened? English textiles were making inroads into the Low Countries markets on the strength of higher quality (higher labour input) and lower costs --although it is quality that contemporaries emphasise, bulk buyers were taking up English cloth, and I am guessing that colonel-proprietors and grandes chatelaines were more impressed with the price tag than the "flowers" on the serge. We know that woollen manufactures were forbidden in Ireland from 1699, making its clip available to English manufacturers. We know that all export duties on woollens were removed in 1700, and that the Aire and Calder Navigation completed in 1704. We assume that higher war taxes cut home consumption, making more available for export, that the draperies of Lille were embarrassed from 1708, amongst many other disruptions of war, that large armies needed large quantities of cloth. At home, Jones quotes Defoe as saying in the 1720s that the late wars were the  making of Halifax and Leeds. 

I could go on: the live question is to what extent the export bounties on grain (and coal?) leaked back into the English market and reduced cost of living --or freed up labour for spinning and weaving. On the other hand, pressure on Wealden charcoal would have increased London demand for sea coal. 

Before you ask, "But what about peace time slumps--" There was no peace! (Except during the Walpole years from which the Isles were so desperate to escape by 1739 that they bought Captain Jenkins' story.) 

We have a massive, state intervention in the economy to increase exports to pay for expeditionary wars. That intervention could have failed (and did), but, year to year, in many, if not most, war years of the Eighteenth Century (of which there were a lot), it did not. That intervention came alongside, and, to some extent competed with, the state's role in stimulating demand at home. 

It is pointless to talk about English comparative advantage compared with, say, France here. The British Crown was paying for it.The French Crown (which supplied its armies directly) did not need to pay to push exports into unwelcoming markets.

If a monocausal explanation of the early industrial revolution is wanted, it is this: It's being paid for out of the national debt to prosecute the wars of the British Successions. Whatever comparative advantages are needed to wedge British export goods into foreign markets will be bought with the proceeds of the sales of consols. 

I'd add at this point that I think this is a sufficient explanation of the technological innovations that follow. If you don't agree, show Archimedes this, and ask him how you stop it from oscillating, because I'd love to see a geometric solution to the damped simple harmonic equation:

By Dr. Mirko Junge - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
"The devices shown are on steam engines. Power is supplied to the governor from the engine's output shaft by a belt or chain connected to the lower belt wheel. The governor is connected to a throttle valve that regulates the flow of working fluid (steam) supplying the prime mover. As the speed of the prime mover increases, the central spindle of the governor rotates at a faster rate and the kinetic energy of the balls increases. This allows the two masses on lever arms to move outwards and upwards against gravity. If the motion goes far enough, this motion causes the lever arms to pull down on a thrust bearing, which moves a beam linkage, which reduces the aperture of a throttle valve. The rate of working-fluid entering the cylinder is thus reduced and the speed of the prime mover is controlled, preventing over-speeding.
Mechanical stops may be used to limit the range of throttle motion, as seen near the masses in the image at right."


  1. NAM Rodgers has some useful data on the way the British state invested systematically in all things naval from 1688, year in, year out. Not just ships, but shipyards, iron-founding, casting, copper sheeting (from 1750), textiles, food preservation, inland transport to deliver all these things, nautical instruments, ropeworks, pulleys..... It gave a lasting advantage over the French and Spanish but demanded a high constant level of expenditure, whether or not the country was at open war. Another, very large, source of industrial subsidy...

  2. Indeed, but he's also got some interesting points about just how important the Spanish navy was for driving Spanish (and Cuban!) development.

    We really do need to talk about textiles, and I thought it was interesting to point how the export drive of the War of the Spanish Succession pushed English textile production (and not just the proportion exported) up, before all the innovations and labour-saving --and in woollens, too. (Since the story is ordinarily about cotton.)

    I even notice, deep in Jones, a comment about how agricultural innovation had probably pushed English agriculture to the limits of its market already in the late Seventeenth Century. it's a tech bubble!