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Trade and overcoming land constraints in British industrialization: an empirical assessment

  • Dimitrios Theodoridis (a1), Paul Warde (a2) and Astrid Kander (a3)

Abstract

Land was an unambiguous constraint for growth in the pre-industrial period. In Britain it was overcome partly through the transition from traditional land-based goods to coal (vertical expansion) and partly through accessing overseas land, primarily from colonies (horizontal expansion). Kenneth Pomeranz suggested that horizontal expansion may have outweighed vertical expansion in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Taking a more complete approach to trade, we find that Britain was a net exporter of land embodied in traded commodities, apart from in the early nineteenth century, when potash (rather than cotton or timber) constituted the major land-demanding import from North America. The vertical expansion was generally larger than the horizontal expansion. In other words, Britain was not simply appropriating flows of land and resources from abroad but simultaneously providing its trading partners with even more land-expanding resources.

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Footnotes

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We would like to thank the audience at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference in Vancouver, Canada (October 2015), where we first presented a portion of this work. Their helpful questions aided us in developing this article as did those by the participants at the workshop ‘Translation in transit: interpreting culture in the modern world’, held at the European University Institute in Fiesole, Italy (May 2017). We are also grateful to Richard L. Kagan, Jorge Flores, Alyson Price, Paul Nelles, Audrey Millet, and José Juan Pérez Meléndez, as well as to the Journal’s editors and the two anonymous reviewers for their vital interventions in earlier drafts.

Footnotes

References

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1 Pomeranz, Kenneth, The great divergence: China, Europe, and the making of the modern world economy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000 .

2 A sample of this literature includes Wrigley, E. A., Continuity, chance and change: the character of the Industrial Revolution in England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988 ; Wrigley, E. A., Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010 ; Wrigley, E. A., The path to sustained growth: England’s transition from an organic economy to an industrial revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016 ; Sieferle, Rolf Peter, The subterranean forest: energy systems and the industrial revolution, Cambridge: White Horse Press, 2001 ; Pomeranz, Great divergence; Kander, Astrid, Malanima, Paolo, and Warde, Paul, Power to the people: energy in Europe over the last five centuries, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013 .

3 Wrigley, Path to sustained growth; Malthus, Thomas Robert, An essay on the principle of population, London: J. Johnson, 1798 .

4 Barbier, Edward, Scarcity and frontiers: how economies have developed through natural resource exploitation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011 .

5 Indicative work which deals extensively with the issue of horizontal frontier expansion is Williams, Eric Eustace, Capitalism and slavery, London: A. Deutsch, 1944 ; Webb, Walter Prescott, The great frontier, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1964 ; Martinez-Alier, Joan, ‘Marxism, social metabolism, and international trade’, in Alf Hornborg, John Robert McNeill, and Joan Martinez-Alier, eds., Rethinking environmental history: world-system history and global environmental change, Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2007, pp. 221237;

Pomeranz, Great divergence; Barbier, Scarcity and frontiers; Bunker, Stephen G. and Ciccantell, Paul S., Globalization and the race for resources, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005 ; Hornborg, Alf, ‘Footprints in the cotton fields: the Industrial Revolution as time–space appropriation and environmental load displacement’, Ecological Economics, 59, 1, 2006, pp. 7481 ; Hornborg, Alf, Global ecology and unequal exchange: fetishism in a zero-sum world, New York: Routledge, 2011; Williams, Michael, Deforesting the Earth: from prehistory to global crisis, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006 ; Inikori, Joseph E., Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: a study in international trade and economic development, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002 .

6 O’Rourke, Kevin H., Taylor, Alan M., and Williamson, Jeffrey G., ‘Factor price convergence in the late nineteenth century’, International Economic Review, 37, 3, 1996, pp. 499530 ; O’Rourke, Kevin H. and Williamson, Jeffrey G., ‘When did globalization begin?’, European Review of Economic History, 6, 1, 2002, pp. 2350 .

7 Rönnbäck, Klas, ‘Integration of global commodity markets in the early modern era’, European Review of Economic History, 13, 1, 2009, pp. 95120 .

8 Studies that have questioned the role of trade and imperial expansion for industrialization include Bairoch, Paul, Economics and world history: myths and paradoxes, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993 ; O’Brien, Patrick, ‘European economic development: the contribution of the periphery’, Economic History Review, 35, 1, 1982, pp. 118 .

9 On land augmentation, see Malanima, Paolo, ‘Energy consumption in England and Italy, 1560–1913: two pathways toward energy transition’, Economic History Review, 69, 1, 2016, pp. 78103 .

10 Clark, Gregory and Jacks, David, ‘Coal and the industrial revolution, 1700–1869’, European Review of Economic History, 11, 1, 2007, pp. 3972 ; Mokyr, Joel, ‘The intellectual origins of modern economic growth’, Journal of Economic History, 65, 2, 2005, pp. 285351 ; McCloskey, Deirdre N., Bourgeois dignity: why economics can’t explain the modern world, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010 .

11 Wrigley, Energy; Wrigley, Path to sustained growth; Allen, Robert C., The British Industrial Revolution in global perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009 ; Allen, Robert C., ‘Why the industrial revolution was British: commerce, induced invention, and the scientific revolution’, Economic History Review, 64, 2, 2011, pp. 357384 ; Kander, Malanima, and Warde, Power to the people; Alan Fernihough and Kevin H. O’Rourke, ‘Coal and the European Industrial Revolution’, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper no. 19802, 2014.

12 For a survey of this tradition, see Martinez-Alier, ‘Marxism, social metabolism, and international trade’; de Molina, Manuel González and Toledo, Víctor M., The social metabolism: a socio-ecological theory of historical change, Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2014 .

13 Wallerstein, Immanuel, The modern world-system, vol. 1: Capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century , New York: Academic Press, 1974 ; Wallerstein, Immanuel, The modern world-system, vol. 2: Mercantilism and the consolidation of the European world-economy, 1600–1750 , New York: Academic Press, 1980 ; Wallerstein, Immanuel, The modern world-system, vol. 3: The second great expansion of the capitalist world-economy, 1730–1840s , San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1989 ; O’Rourke, Kevin H. and Williamson, Jeffrey, Globalization and history: the evolution of a nineteenth-century Atlantic economy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999 ; Findlay, Ronald and O’Rourke, Kevin H., Power and plenty: trade, war, and the world economy in the second millennium, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007 .

14 Two of the earlier attempts to study unequal exchange through trade were the studies by Singer, Hans W., ‘The distribution of gains between investing and borrowing countries’, American Economic Review, 40, 2, 1950, pp. 473485 , and Prebisch, Raul, ‘The economic development of Latin America and its principal problems’, Economic Bulletin for Latin America, 7, 1950 , which also set the ground for what was later called the ‘Prebisch–Singer hypothesis’. Other studies dealing with unequal exchange are Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal exchange: a study of the imperialism of trade, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972; Bunker, Stephen G., Underdeveloping the Amazon: extraction, unequal exchange, and the failure of the modern state, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985 ; Hornborg, Global ecology.

15 Schandl, Heinz and Schulz, Niels, ‘Changes in the United Kingdom’s natural relations in terms of society’s metabolism and land-use from 1850 to the present day’, Ecological Economics, 41, 2, 2002, pp. 203221 .

16 Barbier, Scarcity and frontiers.

17 Paul Warde, ‘Trees, trade and textiles: potash imports and ecological dependency in British industry, c.1550– 1770’, Past & Present, forthcoming.

18 Williams, Michael, ‘Products of the forest: mapping the census of 1840’, Journal of Forest History, 24, 1, 1980, pp. 423 ; Miller, Harry, ‘Potash from wood ashes: frontier technology in Canada and the United States’, Technology and Culture, 21, 2, 1980, pp. 187208 ; Multhauf, Robert P., ‘Potash’, in Brooke Hindle, ed., Material culture of the wooden age, Tarrytown, NY: Sleepy Hollow Press, 1981, pp. 227240 .

19 One of the authors has a more detailed study of these questions in preparation.

20 Borgström, Georg, The hungry planet: the modern world at the edge of famine, New York: Macmillan, 1965 .

21 On the ecological footprint, see Wackernagel, Mathis and Rees, William E., Our ecological footprint: reducing human impact on the Earth, Canada: New Society Publishers, 1996 .

22 Ibid., pp. 71–3.

23 Ibid., p. 71.

24 Mitchell, B. R., British historical statistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 257, 300, 319 .

25 Baines, Edward, History of the cotton manufacture in Great Britain: with a notice of its early history in the East, and in all the quarters of the globe, London: H. Fisher, R. Fisher and P. Jackson, 1835, p. 367 ; Bischoff, James, A comprehensive history of the woollen and worsted manufactures and the natural and commercial history of sheep, from the earliest records to the present period, vol. 2, London: Smith, Elder, 1842 , fig. VII.

26 For a detailed discussion on how the acreage and coal conversion factors of each product has been calculated see Dimitrios Theodoridis, ‘The ecological footprint of early-modern commodities: coefficients of land use per unit of product’, Göteborg Papers in Economic History, 21, 2017, https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/51684 (consulted 14 February 2017); Paul Warde, ‘Energy embodied in traded goods for the United Kingdom, 1870–1935: discussion of methods and sources’, Energy History, 2016, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~histecon/energyhistory/British_energy_multipliers_Warde_Nov_2016.pdf (consulted 14 February 2017).

27 Riello, Giorgio, Cotton: the fabric that made the modern world, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 240244 . However, as he argues, problems with the plausibility of this counterfactual can still arise, given that flax, although it shares material properties with cotton, is significantly more labour-intensive in its processing.

28 Wrigley, Continuity, chance and change, pp. 54–5; Smil, Vaclav, Biomass energies: resources, links, constraints, New York: Plenum, 1983, p. 36 ; Pomeranz, Great divergence, p. 276.

29 For a detailed discussion on the acreage conversion factor of coal : wood, see Theodoridis, ‘Ecological footprint’.

30 For a detailed discussion on the ecological footprint concept, see Wackernagel and Rees, Our ecological footprint.

31 For estimates on guano application and productivity per acre in Britain and the US, see Nesbit, John C., On agricultural chemistry: and the nature and properties of Peruvian guano, London: Longman and Co., 1856, pp. 31, 98116 ; Hollett, Dave, More precious than gold: the story of the Peruvian guano trade, Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Press, 2008, pp. 102, 105 ; Cushman, Gregory T., Guano and the opening of the Pacific world: a global ecological history, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 79 ; The Country Gentleman, 4, 25, 1854, p. 390.

32 Guano imports to Britain were around 82,000 and 280,000 imperial tons respectively in 1849 and 1870. They peaked in 1858 at approximately 300,000 tons according to Mathew, W. M., ‘Peru and the British guano market, 1840–1870’, Economic History Review, 23, 1, 1970, pp. 112128 . These should be considered optimistic estimates, since lands sown with crops other than wheat would have required a much higher application of guano per acre, in some cases even double.

33 Pomeranz, The Great Divergence, p. 276, pp. 313-15.

34 For discussion of the ‘grain invasion’, see O’Rourke, Kevin H., ‘The European grain invasion, 1870–1913’, Journal of Economic History, 57, 4, 1997, pp. 775801 ; Sharp, Paul and Weisdorf, Jacob, ‘Globalization revisited: market integration and the wheat trade between North America and Britain from the eighteenth century’, Explorations in Economic History, 50, 1, 2013, pp. 8898 .

35 Coal output is based on Mitchell, British historical statistics, 247. The conversion here is done based on our conversion factors for coal. Nevertheless, even using Pomeranz’s more conservative conversion factors, the land equivalent of coal output would be approximately 44 million acres and thus still higher than his estimate of ‘ghost acre’ imports.

36 Allen, British Industrial Revolution, pp. 182–216; Parthasarathi, Prasannan, Why Europe grew rich and Asia did not: global economic divergence, 1600–1850, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp. 89114 .

37 Beinart, William and Hughes, Lotte, Environment and empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 93110 .

38 Roberts, William I., ‘American potash manufacture before the American revolution’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 116, 5, 1972, pp. 383395 ; Gittins, L., ‘Innovations in textile bleaching in Britain in the eighteenth century’, Business History Review, 53, 2, 1979, pp. 194204 ; Miller, ‘Potash from wood ashes’.

39 Haber, Ludwig Fritz, The chemical industry during the nineteenth century: a study of the economic aspect of applied chemistry in Europe and North America, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958 ; Warren, Kenneth, Chemical foundations: the alkali industry in Britain to 1926, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980 ; Miller, ‘Potash from wood ashes’; Hocking, Martin Blake, Modern chemical technology and emission control, Berlin: Springer, 1985 ; Russell, Colin A., Chemistry, society and environment: a new history of the British chemical industry, Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000 .

40 Crosby, Alfred W., Ecological imperialism: the biological expansion of Europe, 900–1900, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986 .

41 For detailed discussion of how the acreage and coal conversion factor of each product has been calculated, see Theodoridis, ‘Ecological footprint’; Warde, ‘Energy embodied’.

42 A sample of these studies includes Wrigley, Continuity, chance and change; Wackernagel and Rees, Our ecological footprint; Pomeranz, Great divergence; Warlenius, Rikard, ‘Core and periphery in the early modern world system’, in Arne Jarrik, Janken Myrdal, and Maria Wallenberg Bondesson, eds., Methods in world history: a critical approach, Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2016, pp. 185205 .

43 In fact, we have no way of knowing exactly how large this land area was, given that there were no detailed surveys of the state of the forest stock.

* We would like to thank the audience at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference in Vancouver, Canada (October 2015), where we first presented a portion of this work. Their helpful questions aided us in developing this article as did those by the participants at the workshop ‘Translation in transit: interpreting culture in the modern world’, held at the European University Institute in Fiesole, Italy (May 2017). We are also grateful to Richard L. Kagan, Jorge Flores, Alyson Price, Paul Nelles, Audrey Millet, and José Juan Pérez Meléndez, as well as to the Journal’s editors and the two anonymous reviewers for their vital interventions in earlier drafts.

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