The argument? Over the last 30 years, economic historians have learned that growth was ""slow"" in Britain after 1750 (Crafts, Harley, Antras and Voth). At the same time, there is plenty of evidence that the ""mechanical arts"" progressed quickly (Mokyr, Temin) - a wave of useful gadgets found its way into the British workplace. How do we explain the disconnect? Our answer is - finance. Or, more precisely, the absence of it, as well as the wrong kind. Scholars have long talked about a ""financial revolution"" after 1700 in Britain (Dickson). This revolution was about public finance, not credit intermediation. Using detailed micro-evidence, we examine why, in Postan's words:
""the reservoirs of savings were full enough, but conduits to connect them with the wheels of industry were few and meagre … surprisingly little of her wealth found its way into the new industrial enterprises …""
Our answer is that government regulations in the form of the usury laws and the Bubble Act stifled the development of private finance; government borrowing shocks - crowding out - in addition made financial intermediation much more difficult. In combination, this slowed things down a lot. Britain's industrial transformation after 1750 could have been a lot faster if private finance had played a bigger role. The fact that private capital did not find its way into enterprise readily, and that most financing took the form of retained profits, is a cause for the big rise in the capital share of output, as recently documented by Bob Allen (amongst others).
We document all these challenges through the lens of five goldsmith banks, whose records have survived to the present. The banking in industry in 1700 looked more like Silicon Valley today - lots of entry, lots of exit, little permanence. By 1750 or so, stability had become the norm -- this is what Peter and I call the ""Triumph of Boring Banking"". We show how these firms survived and eventually learned to prosper, despite stifling government regulations. We like to think it's an interesting exercise in ""business history meets macro and financial history"", but now it's time for advice from some of our readers.
You can have a peek here: