However, by any quantifiable measure, including life-span, calories consumed, or child mortality, the lived experience of virtually all of humanity didn’t change much for millennia after the Agricultural (sometimes known as the Neolithic) Revolution spread around the globe. Aztec peasants, Babylonian sheperds, Athenian stonemasons, and Carolingian merchants spoke different languages, wore different clothing, and prayed to different deities, but they all ate the same food, lived the same number of years - travelled no further - or faster - from their homes, and buried just as many of their children. Because while they made a lot of children - worldwide population grew a hundredfold between 5000BCE and 1600CE, from 5 to 500 million - they didn’t make much of anything else. The best estimates for human productivity (a necessarily vague number) calculate annual per capita GDP, expressed in constant 1990 US dollars, fluctuating between $400 and $550 for seven thousand years.
- “The Most Powerful Idea in the World - A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention” - William Rosen.
It’s a hell of a read. It is the start of our story. It involves Edward Coke and John Locke (and some Froggies like Rousseau as villains who had this idea for a social contract to keep us all with our collective arses hanging-out) and some real heroes: men who hit metal with hammers to forge a future brighter than even they (and they were truly visionary) could imagine.
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Unfortunately for all the fogeys then, now and whenever it was, “builded here”. Rosen suggests where that poem comes from - the wreckage of the first ever steam powered flour mill in South London sauntering distance from Mr Blake’s gaff. Nobody knows exactly how it burnt down but the finger points at disgruntled millers. It did though “prove concept” and it took until the decadence (I use the word wisely) of this century for the idea that industrialisation was a “bad thing” to really take root. I would argue this is a function of time (and only capable via industrialisation of course). Almost nobody thinks where anything is made any more or how it is made because they just have it anyway. Perhaps I do better because just a short(ish) pleasant walk from where I grew-up is the cottage of a certain Mr George Stephenson (he’s on the fiver) and it makes a kid think…
That is just the start. Unshackle us and experience the next movement. I promise you it shall be magnificent.
To be continued…