The spread of manufacturing

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The long-run record We speak of the ‘industrial West,’ but before the industrial revolution, most of the world’s manufacturing production took place in China and India. In 1500, the cost of shipping goods between continents was very high, so countries consumed what they produced. Since per capita income was similar across Eurasia, and since China and India each contained about one-quarter of the world’s population, they produced similar proportions of the world’s textiles, ceramics, metals, and other products. The situation was modified slightly in the next two centuries as the voyages of da Gama, Columbus, and Magellan showed that European ships could sail the seven seas, and improvements in their design cut the cost of the voyages, but changes were not substantial enough to seriously modify the late medieval situation, and China and India remained the world’s great manufacturing centers to the eve of the industrial revolution. Other regions of the globe, including the Islamic world, for instance, had important manufacturing industries reflecting the size of their populations. This state of affairs is shown in Figure 2.1, which plots the geographical distribution of world manufacturing output from 1750 to the early twenty-first century. On the eve of the industrial revolution, China and India produced 33 percent and 25 percent of the world’s manufactures. Manufacturing output soared in Britain after 1750 as her share of the world total rose from 2 percent to a peak value of about 23 percent in 1880. Over the same period, the Chinese and Indian shares dropped to 13 percent and 3 percent, respectively. (Their shares kept dropping in the twentieth century, bottoming out at 2 percent each in the 1950s.)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Capitalism Volume 2
Subtitle of host publicationThe Spread of Capitalism: From 1848 to the Present
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781139095105
ISBN (Print)9781107019645
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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