Prevailing theme among those who contend that the industrial revolution produced unrelieved misery for millions is that working, and living, conditions and key economic factors were undeniably the product of industrialization and urbanization. Yet in each country that experienced an industrial transformation, it is equally as likely that circumstances of “time and place” had as much to do with social ills and economic volatility as the rapid growth of factories and assembly plants. “Many of the social discomforts that have been attributed to the industrial revolution in Britain were…the result of forces which (for all we know) would still have operated if manufacture had remained undeveloped and there had been no change of economic form.production levels and a consequent reduction in prices.3 However, other variables were in play. The political adventurism that characterized the spread of Britain’s colonial empire slowed the development of economic processes, and the rapid introduction of paper money after1797 caused a period of inflation that lasted nearly 20 years.4 It would be another 15 years before price levels more or less settled into some semblance of stability. As well, the transition from a predominantly agricultural economy to an industrialized economic base was far from a smooth process. To make matters worse, a series of bad winters resulted in poor harvests and elevated bread prices. Circumstance and the vagaries of fate clearly were as much to blame as the changes that industrialization brought to the underclass.Ashton points out that Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and other economic theorists have been too ready to resort to comfortable generalizations that make of the industrial revolution a scapegoat for the woes, both real and perceived, of the laboring class. This, he explains, is the result of a too-narrow view of the economic factors upon which history turns. One such example is Engels’ characterization of the basic conditions in which the poor lived during the industrial era. “The clothing of the working-people in a majority of cases is in a very bad condition.material used for it is not of the best adapted.”5 Ashton counters that the new materials used by the poor for clothing were actually available in greater abundance than ever before, and were in many cases more durable (Ibid). The same dynamic is in evidence concerning foodstuffs.increasing consumption of tea and potatoes has been seen
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