patents did not cause the industrial revolution

From Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Dignity (p 302-4):

British patents were very expensive, a minimum of £100 (a respectable lower-middle class annual income at the time) and requiring many months of attendance on law courts in London. Therefore they were taken out as only one of many alternative ways of establishing ones credibility as an ingenious person — someone to be admired, and to be paid to do all sorts of engineering work, or to be given a governmental sinecure. Patents were considered undignified by many inventors, and were often treated with suspicion by judges, as constituting monopolies (as they do). Getting a head start in producing according to ones idea was then, as usually also today, better assurance of fame and fortune. Patents sound neat, but were not…

Allen himself admits that patents for invention, though available in England from 1624 on, were in fact as I’ve noted little used, which would be odd if making money were all that was involved… Thomas Carlyle, the scourge of the classical economists, remarked in 1829 that “with men: that they have never been roused into deep, thorough, all-pervading efforts by any computable prospect of Profit and Loss, for any visible, finite object; but always for some invisible and infinite one.”

An economist who is thinking like an economist, instead of like a fourth-rate applied mathematician who knows only the use of Max U and Max’s marginal balances, does not in fact find it so strange. Computable prospects would already have been discovered. Routine balances of profit and loss cannot have motivated the sudden, unique, and gigantic lurch forward 1700-1900…

McCloskey’s theme over his (he is a biological man) trilogy is that it was the rise of the Bourgeois in public esteem that caused the Industrial Revolution.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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