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SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC

CHANGE IN THE LATER


SEVENTEENTH CENTURY,
PART I
Englands Great Divergence and the
consolidation of capitalist agriculture

Englands economy and society,


1700

c. 1660-

1. England developed socially and economically quite


rapidly during the Restoration period.
2. The country did not experience the economic downturn
and stagnation of the later seventeenth century, a
stagnation and downturn that afflicted all of continental
Europe with the exception of the Netherlands.
3. During the second half of the seventeenth century,
England was in the process of shifting from a traditional
agrarian society to a dynamic commercial and
manufacturing society.
4. By the year 1700, only 50-60% of the English population
was primarily involved/employed in agriculture.

The pre-modern or pre-capitalist economy across the world


(from the rise of settled agriculture nearly ten millennia ago to the
early modern era)
1. The development of settled agriculture created an

agrarian surplus that allowed for a small portion of the


population to live off the land, and thus allowed for the
growth of towns and trade.
2. With the growth of towns and trade, an urban-rural (or
town-country) division of labor emerged in agrarian
civilizations and kingdoms.
3. Labor productivity in agriculture was limited and, thus,
the growth of the agrarian surplus could not keep up with
the growth of the population. When the population
exceeded the resources necessary to maintain it, a
Malthusian crisis occurred. Trade and towns declined and
economic development ceased.

The pre-modern or pre-capitalist economy across


the world, continued
4. The pre-modern or pre-capitalist economy was

characterized by a two-phase demographic cycle: Phase A was


characterized by population growth and economic
development; Phase B was characterized by population
decrease and economic decline.
5. In the pre-modern or pre-capitalist economy, although a
portion of the population was able to live off the land in towns,
and to engage in trade and manufacturing, these developments
were highly constricted by the Malthusian demographic cycle.
6. Before new developments in seventeenth-century Western
Europe, especially in England and the Netherlands, towns,
trade, and manufacturing could only grow to a limited extent.
This meant that traditional agrarian society was never
transcended but simply repeated in different forms across the
globe.

The European economy, c. 1100-1700


1. From 1100 to 1300, all of Europe experienced Phase A of the

Malthusian demographic cycle: the growth of an agricultural


surplus, population rise, and the growth of towns and trade.
2. From 1300 to 1450, all of Europe experienced Phase B of the
Malthusian demographic cycle: the growth of population
outstripped resources and a crisis set in. This crisis included the
Great Famine of 1316-1317, the Black Plague of 1348-1349, the
Hundred Years War, and the General Crisis of the Fourteenth
Century.
3. From 1450 to 1600, all of Europe once again experienced
Phase A of the Malthusian demographic cycle: economic upswing.
4. In the seventeenth century, all of Europe, with the exception of
the Netherlands and England, experienced Phase B of the
Malthusian demographic cycle: economic downturn.

Englands economy after 1650


1. By the second half of the seventeenth century, Englands

economy fundamentally broke with the Malthusian demographic


cycle. As a consequence, England continued to grow economically.
2. Towns, trade, and manufacturing continued to grow in England
without limit. The urban, commercial, and manufacturing/industrial
sectors of the economy increased and the agricultural sector
decreased in relative importance. By 1750, the commercial and
manufacturing sectors accounted for 30-50% of all economic
activity.
3. Why did this economic transformation take place? Why did
Englands economy enter into a period of self-sustaining growth in
the second half of the seventeenth century, eventually leading to
the hyper-charged Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth
century?

Englands economy after 1650, continued


4. The transition to capitalist agriculture in the countryside a

long-term and largely imperceptible process that took place


during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries
brought about the necessary but not sufficient condition for this
economic transformation.
5. The transformation of Englands political economy during the
mid-seventeenth-century revolution more specifically, the
commercial, naval, and imperial policies of the English
Commonwealth, c. 1649-1653 brought about the sufficient
condition for this economic transformation.
6. The long-term development of capitalist agriculture made
possible Englands post-1650 economic takeoff, and the
transformation of the countrys political economy during the
mid-century revolution realized this possibility.

The transition to capitalist agriculture,


c. 1400-1700
1. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, the
English countryside experienced the transition to capitalist
agriculture.
2. This was made possible by two conditions: 1. the end of
serfdom, which meant that the vast majority of the rural
population was no longer serfs but rather free laborers; and 2.
the transformation of land into the absolute private property of
the landed classes (i.e., the aristocracy and the gentry), which
meant that land was no longer communal and subject to
customary usage but rather the alienable property of lords
who could do with it what they saw fit.
3. Essentially, the laborers were free but had no land with
which to provide for themselves, and the lords had land but
no longer had serfs (i.e., forced laborers) to work on it.

The transition to capitalist agriculture,


c. 1400-1700, continued
4. These conditions led to the rise and spread of the classic triad
structure of capitalist agriculture: 1. aristocratic-capitalist
landlord (collector of money rent); 2. commercial tenant-farmer
(maker of profit); and 3. agrarian wage-laborer (earner of wage).
5. The spread of this triad structure gave rise to competitive
production for the market. In response to the pressures of pricecutting competition, farmers sought to reduce production costs
by increasing labor productivity via specialization, capital
accumulation, and innovation.
6. This process of specialization, accumulation, and innovation
led to dramatic increases in labor productivity in agriculture and,
with it, dramatic increases in the production of foodstuffs and
other agricultural goods.

By the dawn of the eighteenth century, English farmers were


continuously searching for and applying new techniques and
innovations such as the Norfolk four-crop rotation system and
Jethro Tulls seed drill (invented in 1701).

The classic triad structure of capitalist agriculture in England


led to competitive production for the market and, with it,
dramatically increased agricultural productivity.

The transition to capitalist agriculture,


c. 1400-1700, continued
7. The pre-modern or pre-capitalist limits on the creation of an

agricultural surplus were transcended and Englands economy


was thus able to escape the Malthusian trap.
8. The immense gains in agricultural productivity made possible,
and indeed necessitated, the shift of population off the land into
towns and cities.
9. Increased agricultural productivity lowered the cost of basic
foodstuffs and other necessities. As a result, it increased the
disposable income of most of the population (i.e., income not
spent on the basic necessities of life).
10. With an increased disposable income, English men and
women purchased more non-necessities, or luxuries, produced
and traded in the urban-based manufacturing and commercial
sectors.