Classical Liberalism and the miracle of the industrial revolution

The economic historian Gregory Clark (UC at Davis and author of A Farewell to Alms) points out:

. . . there is no sign of any improvement in material conditions for settled agrarian societies as we approach 1800. There was no gain between 1800 BC and AD 1800 – a period of 3,600 years. Indeed the wages for east and south Asia and southern Europe for 1800 stand out by their low level compared to those for ancient Babylonia, ancient Greece, or Roman Egypt.

Around 1800 this changed and economic growth began to rise every year. Inventions, trade, wealth creation, and all the rest we recognize as the modern world. This was a miracle of unbelievable proportions.

Why did the miracle happen?

By 1889, these post-1800 inventions had arrived: gas lighting, electric lighting (arc light), the steam powered ship, the tin can, the macadamized road, photography, the railroad, portland cement, the reaper, anesthesia, the typewriter, the sewing machine, the Colt revolver, the telegraph, the wrench, the safety pin, mass-produced newspapers, pasteurization, vulcanized rubber, barbed wire, petroleum-based industry, dynamite, the telephone, Carnegie’s steel mills, the skyscraper, the internal combustion engine, the automobile, and commercial electricity. (Gary North)

What had happened? After 3,600 years of no growth, the economy was growing at 2% per year. The “industrial revolution” happened. Every economic historian would recognize this; and would point out that it happened around 1800 and it happened in the northern part of north Europe. Why there? Why then? Some say it had to do with liberty and man’s inventiveness. But still, why Great Britain and North America? If we want this process to continue then we need to honor whatever condition made it happen in the first place.

Ludwig von Mises told us that the greatest strength of the socialists was their belief in the inevitability of victory. This gave them strength to endure. But they were wrong in economic theory as von Mises had pointed out in 1920. It was not collectivism that built the modern world.

It turns out that as long as people keep their hands off each other’s property and leave them alone, most will be as productive as they can possibly be. Perhaps the practical and the moral among us should realize that the ancient admonition “Thou shalt not steal” is good economic advice. “Thou shalt not covet” is also good advice.

The battle is not technological but rather it is ethical. The best method of helping all people is to realize freedom and liberty are the only answers.

Classical Liberalism gave us the great advances of the industrial revolution. If one cares to return to mass poverty with only a few at the top having plenty of the available necessities then they should recommend the opposite of freedom: government enforced interventions into the economic sphere. That is the prosperity killer.


… Classical liberalism places a particular emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual, with private property rights being seen as essential to individual liberty. This forms the philosophical basis for laissez-faire public policy. … Classical liberalism holds that individual rights are natural, inherent, or inalienable, and exist independently of government. Thomas Jefferson called these inalienable rights: …

This is the basis for the vast wealth and technology production of the last three centuries. As you allow freedom, so you allow prosperity. Covet not! Steal from individuals not!


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