by T. S. Ashton
Since its inception, the industrial revolution has been attacked, first by medievalists and now by environmentalists. It has been smeared as the cause of poverty and oppression, as the source of every evil from back-breaking labor, to pollution, to the destruction of the family. This book provides the historical facts to refute these claims, showing the enormous beneficial effects of the Industrial Revolution and examining the conditions that made it possible.
A brief, scholarly overview, Ashton's book covers the origins of the industrial revolution and its key developments. The author recounts the many technological innovations that sparked the new era: primarily, improvements in methods of iron-making, the invention of the steam engine and the mechanization of the textile industry. He also details the process of private road- and canal- building which made the transportation of goods cheaper and easier.
And what about the claims of oppression of workers and widespread use of child labor? Ashton dryly and methodically demolishes these myths, showing that the increased use of mechanization made labor less demanding and more productive. He points out that child labor was a normal part of pre-industrial life, and that, in condemning child labor, "the modern would passing judgment according to the code of an age which (because of the: Industrial Revolution) has a standard of life immeasurably higher" than that of the late 18th century
A final theme of Ashton's work, though largely implicit, pertains to the constant interference by government in the progress of the revolution. He notes that "if there had been no wars to force up prices, raise the rates of interest and turn resources to destruction, the course of the Industrial Revolution would have been smoother, and its consequences would not have been, as the are, in dispute."
Ashton is not an advocate of laissez-faire, and in one unfortunate chapter he attempts to argue that the Industrial Revolution cannot be attributed either to laissez-faire or to individualism. All the rest of his book, however, provides ample evidence to the contrary. The reader emerges with portrait of the Revolution as the result of the effort and innovation of productive heroes living under freedom, who ushered in a previously unimaginable era of wealth and prosperity. (139 pages)
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