Friday, 6 March 2015

It was "Agintrans" geniuses of enhanced productivity that made the industrial revolution

My thesis here is that English (and some Scottish) geniuses specifically in Agriculture, Industrial production and Transport (for which I have coined the word Agintrans) - but primarily in agriculture - were the crucial factor in driving the industrial revolution.

And that the people who make this type of breakthrough should be assumed to be geniuses - even when they have traditionally a lower status than other types of genius (in science, philosophy, literature, art, architecture, music etc), and despite that some of the names of the people who made some of the breakthroughs seem to have been lost.


The two most significant transitions in the history of mankind were the invention of agriculture - which happened before history, independently in several times and places and spread rather gradually; and the industrial revolution - which was lavishly documented, happened in England and spread very rapidly.

My understanding is that such revolutions are made from breakthroughs that are the product of creative geniuses, of individual and specially gifted men. Without the geniuses, there is only incremental improvement of existing methods.

But geniuses come in many types. Clearly, genius in painting and literature does not make an industrial revolution. So, the question is what kind of geniuses made the industrial revolution?


Before the industrial revolution, nations could only rapidly increase production (and grow population) by conquest (and to a lesser extent by trade) - so growth of a nation was at the expense of decline of another nation.

For instance, Empires were built on military innovations which led to conquest, looting, enslavement etc. Or there were cohesion innovations (religion, ideologies, forms of job specialisation and hierarchical organisation, even the arts and literature) which kept the population motivated and cooperating.

What made the industrial revolution different was geniuses who enabled increased productivity - specifically, whose breakthroughs increased the extraction of useful resources from a unit area.


So the relevant English geniuses were probably those in areas such as agriculture, transport, energy, industrial machinery, building and human organisation.

In particular, the industrial revolution was made possible by the preceding agrarian (or agricultural) revolution from about 1700. That increase in agricultural productivity without which the population could not have increased. By about 1700 the English population seems to have risen to near the Malthusian limit of traditional agriculture and technology - yet by 1850 the population had trebled.


The agrarian revolution in England was characterised by a multitude of major and swiftly cumulative breakthroughs, such as selective animal breeding for more desirable traits; improved understanding of crop rotation, manuring and liming; and a many improved tools.

The result was an increased extraction of food per unit area - and an increase in the amount of area usable for food (e.g. by drainage of wet areas).


Following rapidly on, and necessary for food distribution, were improvements in transportation such as much better road surfaces allowing wheeled vehicles in all weathers, new canals and the invention of railways - first with horse power, then later coal powered.

All this required new technologies and forms of organisation for coal and other forms of mining, and production of iron, steel and so on. Industrial production entailed invention of factory production and many new types of manufacture.

The end result was to increase greatly the amount of useful stuff that could be extracted or otherwise produced per man-hour.


My point is that it is easy to be distracted away from this type of Agintrans innovation, when at the same time there was an efflorescence of English genius in so many other areas such as philosophy, science, literature, art, architecture, religion and all the rest - and when the geniuses in these areas are so much better known than the Agintrans geniuses.

Especially neglected are the (presumed) geniuses of the agrarian revolution upon whom everything which came later depended: the likes of Robert Bakewell, Jethro Tull, Coke of Norfolk, Turnip Townsend... these men probably ought to be honoured as the primary enablers of the modern world and of the second great transformative transition of the human species. 




Arrgh said...

You might enjoy Hard Magic's alt history view of geniuses.

Ngoc Nguyen said...

I like to think of this article as a case of blue-collar genius vs. white-collar genius. (As with literal white-collar professions,) the latter seems to always get more veneration and respect.

Chuck said...

Chariot of Reactions 'Smart Rednecks'?
Otherwise known as 'the people who keep everything going' (When allowed to do so by the intelligentsia :)