In 1750, the European economy was overwhelmingly an agricultural economy. The land was owned largely by wealthy and frequently
aristocratic landowners; they leased the land to tenant farmers who paid for the land in real goods that they grew or produced.
Most non-agricultural goods were produced by individual families that specialized in one set of skills: wagon-wheel manufacture,
for instance. Most capitalist activity focused on mercantile activity rather than production; there was, however, a growing
manufacturing industry growing up around the logic of mercantilism.
The European economy, though,
had become a global economy. In our efforts to try to explain why the Industrial Revolution took place, the globalization
of the European economy is a compelling explanation. European trade and manufacture stretched to every continent except Antarctica;
this vast increase in the market for European goods in part drove the conversion to an industrial, manufacturing economy.
Why other nations didn't initially join this revolution is in part explained by the monopolistic control that the Europeans
exerted over the global economy. World trade was about making Europeans wealthy, not about enriching the colonies or
Another reason given for the Industrial Revolution is the substantial increase
in the population of Europe; this is such an old chestnut of historians that we don't question it. Population growth, however,
is a mysterious affair to explain; it most often occurs when standards of production rise. So whether the Industrial Revolution
was started off by a rise in population, or whether the Industrial Revolution started a rise in population is hard to guess.
It's clear, though, that the transition to an industrial, manufacturing economy required more people to labor at this manufacture.
While the logic of a national economy founded centrally on the family economy and family production is more or less a subsistence
economy—most production is oriented around keeping the family alive, the logic of a manufacturing economy is a surplus
economy. In a manufacturing economy, a person's productive labor needs to produce more than they need to keep life
going. This surplus production is what produces profits for the owners of the manufacture. This surplus economy not only makes
population growth possible, it makes it desirable.