Did Victorian Britain Fail Essay
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Supervision 5: Growth in late Victorian Britain British Economic History, Paper 5, Part I Essay 'There is no sign of failure in the late Victorian economy; all we observe is other
countries, predictably, catching up with Britain.' Discuss.
In the late 19th century, Britain's industrial superiority was increasingly challenged. The
share of world exports for the UK dropped from 20.2% in 1872 to 13.6.
The relative fall in
manufacturing exports was even more pronounced, as the world share of the UK in this
category fell from 45.5% to 26.8% in the same period.
At the same time, the shares of
competitors such as the USA and Germany rose steadily. These two countries attained
labour productivity levels in manufacturing which were 22% (Germany) and 93% (USA)
higher than in the UK in 1911.
Furthermore, Britain attained lower growth rates in real GDP:
The average growth rate from 1870 - 1913 was 1.9% in Britain, whereas Germany had a
growth rate of 2.8% and the US attained 4.2% in the same period.
Not only did Britain
compare unfavourably with its contemporary competitors, but its performance also lagged
behind its own benchmarks from earlier periods. Real GDP growth was higher from 1856
1873, where the average figure was 2.2% p.a.
This seems to be a small gap, but can lead to
big differences over a longer period of time.
The question whether this relative decline of British industrial and economic performance can
be seen as failure of the late Victorian economy, or whether there was unrealized potential
for the British economy has been the topic of much debate. In 1970, Donald McCloskey wrote an article regarding this question with the title "Did
Victorian Britain fail?".6 In this article, he reached the conclusion that Victorian Britain did not
fail, but grew as fast as its labour and capital constraints would allow. McCloskey undertakes
his analysis by using the neoclassical growth model with the following equation for the
sources of growth:
δQ/Q = α*δK/K + β*δL/L + r*
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