The industrialization of Europe occurred after the process was initiated in England . However, the area had been gradually acquiring the environment that would make industry successful since the seventeenth century.
The economic change of the 1700s was one of the first steps toward modern times. At this time, the Mediterranean area began to stagnate while economic focus shifted northwest to nations such as France , Holland , and especially England , which exploited their valuable colonial holdings in both the East and America . The economic distress and decline in the Catholic church caused by the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, along with new taxes increasingly put into place by imperialistic monarchs to support new ventures, led to civil unrest and peasant revolts. During this time, infant and childbirth mortality were high, as was death from disease, leading to a small population and lack of workers.
The change began in the agricultural sphere. While the processes had originated with the Dutch, the English were most successfully able to adapt and introduce crop rotation, crop variation with legumes, and enclosure to increase the efficiency and output of farms. These ideas spread to most agricultural areas in Europe during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
The time period immediately following the introduction of these new farming methods is often considered one of “protoindustrialization”. The new availability of labor and decline in the actual ownership of farms and therefore production methods made it inevitable that some people would need to but things from others rather than make it themselves. This led to the development of the putting-out system, where workers bought supplies from a middleman and used them to make goods, which they eventually sold back to the middleman for an often marginal profit and which were then sold to others. This process introduced the widespread concept of being paid for labor rather than goods, and helped create a class dependent on monetary income. These workers did not keep what they helped to produce, so the only way for them to acquire goods was through money. This increased usage of, as well as faith in, standard currency.
Of course, the English government's pro-business approach allowed it to gather speed in this process and, through innovations in the textile industry, concentrate workers through the factory system. The introduction of the potato from the Americas at the time also provided a cheap, relatively reliable source of food for the isle, while other imported goods such as tobacco and cotton allowed England to become a leader in trade and textile production. While the Napoleonic conquest of continental Europe cut it off from England for a time, it eventually caught up to the English industrial system. This occurred first in France , directly across the English channel , and later spread throughout Europe through a combination of innovation and commercial espionage. As industry grew, it became more powerful through relatively business-friendly practices by governments. They gained legal leverage through incorporation, which made a company a single legal entity, and limited liability, which protected investors' money when a business acquired debt.
The concentration of labor in factories led to increasing urbanization, and because social programs did not keep up with the competitive activity of businesses, workers were often politically suppressed and suffered compromising conditions, including low wages, poor housing and sanitation, and a lack of education. Combined with the deleterious influence of industries on the natural environment, this led to several broadly-based European movements against the new industrial structure. This included cultural reactions such as Romanticism, which idealized the past as an idyllic and innocent time, and political movements such as socialism, which hoped to ameliorate the conditions of industrial societies by making the means of production the collective property of the people, with each receiving his fair share of the total production. A less radical pro-labor movement was the growth of unions, large groups of workers similar to the guilds of feudal times, which united workers and used the power of numbers to bargain with employers. However, unions did not make many significant gains until their rights were recognized by governments, and both employers and officials tried to suppress their activities through legislation as well as refusal to hire unionists.
This was also a time of fervent political activity in Europe and its colonies. Citizens who were no longer tied down to their land tried to throw off the power of absolute monarchs, as happened in France and England while colonies fought in turn for autonomy and independence from their imperial mother countries; the most successful of these was America, which would soon become a fully industrial nation in its own right.
While the gradual loss of colonial holdings weakened some economies such as that of France and England , industrial production continued to thrive in Europe . It is thought that the competitive industrialization in Europe led to the production and arms race that eventually caused World Wars One and Two. Today, European industry continues to prosper, though some individual areas that formerly dominated production, such as Liverpool and Manchester , have begun to stagnate.
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Nash, Gary B. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. Pearson Education: 2004.
Interview with Professor Peter Howitt, 4. 25. 06