Let's not ask whether the Industrial Revolution was inevitable. Let's ask something a little less hypothetical: Why England, and why around 1800?
The answer (of course) is "Money!"
Production and consumption both depend on spending. Spending can't happen without money. So if you want an inexplicable increase of industry, you're going to need a matchingly inexplicable growth of funding. I suppose you could say supply creates its own demand, and a doubling of output generates a doubling of income. And, you know, during the era we call the Industrial Revolution, you just might be right. For nothing short of the exuberance of the greatest age of the inducement to investment could have made it possible to lose sight of the theoretical possibility of its insufficiency.
Still, the doubling of income comes during or after the doubling of output, not before. So where does the money come to increase output in the first place, so that income may increase enough to sustain the higher level of output? ...But maybe I shouldn't be calling it "money". Maybe I should be calling it accumulated financial capital. Money people would want to sink into new ventures, if they had it.
So where does that money come from? From government spending, perhaps. Government spending is the source of private sector net assets. Government spending could have been a catalyst, providing the funds to generate a doubling of output, and another doubling, and more, till the process took on a life of its own.
Government Spending as CatalystThe following is brought forward from mine of 31 August, 2010, tweaked just a tad.
To expand upon coincidence, the two centuries of the mountain of U.K. debt completely envelop the 150 years Keynes called "the greatest age of the inducement to invest." As I noted in an earlier post, one is almost forced to wonder whether that mountain of debt actually helped the economy along, encouraging the Industrial Revolution and leading Britain to the top of the heap.
[Four years ago when I wrote the above paragraph, I did not know there was the question Why England, and why around 1800?. So, four years ago, I said "one is almost forced to wonder" about a relation between England's public debt and the Industrial Revolution. Now I know there is that question. So now I will say: Why England? Because of the public debt. Why 1800? Because of the public debt.]
So the general trend was a steep increase in debt from 1700 to 1820. And after more than a century of persistent increase in public debt, GDP was growing like never before.
This look at the raw numbers shows that public debt in the UK did not "peak." It simply stabilized after 1820. It was the growth of GDP that made public debt seem to shrink.
The increase in government debt comes before the increase in growth. We have public debt increasing (1740-1790), increasing rapidly (1790-1820), then stabilizing at a high level. We have Real GDP stable (before 1759), increasing slightly at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (1759-1811), accelerating (1811-1830), and then achieving the sort of growth we long for today.
We have the increase in public debt first, followed by the increase in GDP. Then there is an acceleration of public debt first, followed by acceleration in GDP. And then we have public debt stabilizing while GDP growth continues, causing the long decline in debt as a percent of GDP that appears on Graph #1. In these events, we witness the birth of capitalism.
The Industrial Revolution began in England around the year 1800. Why? Because society was ready, and technology was ready, but most of all because net financial assets were available in sufficient quantity.