The process by which Great Britain became the first industrialized society and hence was able to achieve global hegemony happened in two stages. When the term "Industrial Revolution" is mentioned, images of railways, factories and dark satanic mills pop into our heads. The effects we remember are the negatives of hugely unhealthy cities, pollution and anomie, and the positives of an end to starvation, rising living standards and the growth of the national power (perhaps, some would argue, it grew too much - but does the fate of the countries that failed in this regard look much better?) However, all this was made possible by a quieter 'industrious revolution' that occurred beforehand.

Let us imagine for a moment that there once existed a prelapsarian agricultural human society which was self-sufficient. It would grow its own food and individual households would produce what few consumer goods they needed. Such a society would have no need of money and would subsist merely by living off the land and local resources, as humans did since agriculture first emerged in the Fertile Crescent and before the state and money came onto the scene.

Now imagine the alternative world, its polar opposite. This is the world of the modern city, where individuals do not produce a single loaf of bread or widget of their own, but buy it all from a national economy based on the exchange of money wages for goods and services. This individual measures their household income purely in the amount of hard currency brought through the door, as this money has a high value due to the large amount of goods and services it can be exchanged for on the local high street or on the internet.

Imagine you gave a peasant from the first society money. She wouldn't be interested, because the metal or paper would have no use-value beyond its physical presence (not being useful for exchange). In her moneyless society, there would be no goods or services to exchange the money for, so its value would be zero.

This is how the position of peasants can be broadly understood, although in reality they have usually been integrated into the national economy to some extent by the local town or market. However, the fact remains that most peasants, including the British, did not care much for money if they could have grain, meat and consumables made in cottage industry instead. These goods could largely be traded against each other without the need for money. A great number of peasants never had the surplus wealth to have sitting around in coin, as they had to constantly utilize all of their assets to survive. Often they could only fulfil one need by sacrificing another.

In England, this began to change from around 1700. Over the next hundred years, the value of the home market went from £10 million to £90 million, and expenditure on industrial goods went up 370%. Historians argue about the exact nature of cause and effect, but suddenly a new world of goods opened up and demand was high. As more goods were made available to peasants (due to the integration of the national market, which means it became cheaper and easier to shift goods all over the country for sale), they began to value the money needed to get them more. Economists would say the marginal utility of money went up, which means each bit of money peasants could get their hands on was useful to them.

Along with the sudden new desire for cash came a readier ability to abuse oneself for higher wages, a phenomenon that might seem atavistic until we remember the propensity of modern man to do just the same. Between 1760 and 1821, there was a 20 - 23% increase in the amount of labour put into the economy by each worker. In the 1830s people were working 1,500 more hours a year than they do in the 1990s. The 'industrious revolution' consisted in this willingness to work more, discounting leisure time, to gain access to the new world of consumer goods made possible in the first century of Britain's industrialization.

Generally the extra hours did not come from more hours being worked each day, but by abandoning the large number of religious and other holidays which were a traditional part of the British calendar. The most famous was Saint Monday, canonized not for its holy aspects but more for working-men to cope with their hangovers after the Sabbath. New consumption patterns were purchased at the expense of this leisure time, which has led some to argue that the new goods and services people had access to did not amount to an increase in the standard of living because you need time to enjoy goods and services.

However, like protestations that conditions in the cities were just too terrible to be a symbol of progress, the experience of contemporaries belies this claim - people get moving to those awful cities, and people kept working hard to get access to the rewards of the cash economy. Of course, they may have had no choice. But as soon as people became more accustomed to an elevated standard of living and luxuries such as tea, sugar and textiles, they tended to defend this standard by putting in more work when their position was threatened.

It is these elevated expectations and the willingness of most to work for them that has given us our culturally-defined notion of poverty, which has nothing to do with the right to the five basic needs (which are assumed as givens), but is rather extended to include anyone who does not have the socially-accepted level of goods that have nothing to do with subsistence and to which most aspire (a television, a car, a varied diet). It was the achievement of the industrial revolution to make the right to the basic needs of life ubiquitous, and to put an elevated standard of living within the reach of all - even if at first it required rather a lot of hard work. Modern Britain is built on the sweat of these toilers as well as the blood of her soldiers.

The two key texts on the matter are Jan de Vries, 'Between purchasing power and the world of goods: understanding the household economy in early modern Europe' in R Porter and J. Brewer (ed.), Consumption and the World of Goods and J. Voth, Time and Work in England. Voth examined Old Bailey court records to see when witnesses reported having being at work, and was able to document the increase in working hours. For further discussion and a more extensive bibliography, see the node the Consumer Revolution.

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