Define "industrial capitalism." How was industrial capitalism a global phenomemon in the late nineteenth century?

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“Industrial capitalism” refers to the emergence of the new modes of production and distribution that came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution, particularly in Britain in the early 1800s. The nineteenth century is generally known as the “machine age” because radical new developments in the production of metal,...

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“Industrial capitalism” refers to the emergence of the new modes of production and distribution that came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution, particularly in Britain in the early 1800s. The nineteenth century is generally known as the “machine age” because radical new developments in the production of metal, the extraction of enormous amounts of natural resources, and revolutionary methods of producing energy allowed for the invention of massive new factories, and the machines that populated them. These machine technologies allowed for the production of goods on an unprecedented scale and furnished the rise of an entirely new urban society.

“Capitalism” is a notoriously difficult word to define, but an attribute that scholars commonly associate with it was the increased willingness of people to take risks and to invest their time, money, and resources into things that would not yield them an immediate profit, but rather were themselves the tools by which they could produce wealth. This way of thinking about economic relations marked a sharp break from the feudal mercantilism that defined most economic relations in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution. The machine, in and of itself, is not very valuable (yes, the machines of the Industrial Age were expensive, but relative to the amount of wealth they could produce when at work, the value of the materials that made them up and the labor of their construction was peanuts). However, if the capitalist was willing and able to initially invest in it, he then had a tool whose function could allow him to generate wealth on an Industrial scale. Thus, this is what lay at the core of industrial capitalism—an initial investment in “capital” (machines, human labor, property, tools, etc.) that was necessary for the future production of wealth at the level of mass industry.

The machines of the Industrial Revolution allowed Europe to make contact with the rest of the world by the late-nineteenth century. Central to this development was the invention of the steam engine. In the early 1800s, James Watt and Matthew Boulton invented the first steam engine, which, after subsequent iterations throughout the century, became the titular technology of the era. Steam power allowed for the construction of massive locomotives, trans-oceanic steamships, and enormous turbines that could generate electricity for entire cities. Because of the increase in mobility permitted by these steam-energy related technologies, Europeans were able to transfer their ideas and material culture globally, thus bringing the entire world into the economic system of industrial capitalism. Unfortunately, the character of industrial capitalism in, say, the New World or Africa was not the same as in Western Europe, as industrialists had little care for developing these regions. Rather, they were used as repositories, replete with the human labor and raw materials needed to feed Europe’s burgeoning industrial economy. Thus, even though industrial capitalism was a global phenomenon, it was not experienced the same way at every point of the globe it touched.

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When speaking about the history of industrialization, one of the critical themes that emerges is the increasing scale of business operations. This is especially the case as we transition from the early period of the Industrial Revolution to that of the Industrial Age, with the economy becoming increasingly dominated by a small number of large-scale business operations. Consider the history of the United States, and the sheer scale by which corporations and trusts such as Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel operated, and the dominance they wielded within their various markets, along with themes such as vertical and/or horizontal integration. It is this growing scale of business operations, and the growing dominance of big business interests within national and global economies, that I would associate with as one of the critical, defining components of industrial capitalism.

Ultimately, I would say that industrial capitalism was a global phenomenon, closely connected with the history of nineteenth century imperialism. Remember, manufacturing economies require resources in order to function (as well as a consumer base to sell goods to). With that in mind, one of the core motivations of imperialism was to acquire markets and raw materials, and big business interests would use their power and influence in order to protect their various financial investments, including those in other countries.

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Industrial capitalism is the economic system that the US has; trade and the economy is controlled and operated for a profit, and is usually controlled by private individuals rather than the government.

In the 19th century, the rise of industrialism introduced machinery and standardization to the global economy. This made goods easier to come by and cheaper, which increased mass consumerism, which in turn fueled more industry. As a result, there was a shift from mercantile economies to capitalist ones. Industrial capitalism also occurred as a part of and in conjunction with the Enlightenment in Europe, when new ideas about laissez-faire, free market, capitalist economies spread throughout the Western world.

One key proponent of industrial capitalism was enlightened philosophe and economist Adam Smith, who argued that in a mercantile system, the state will only profit at the expense of another state. With industrial capitalism, the people could profit and benefit the global economy by engaging in business and industry.

Worldwide, we see the decline of handicraft, non-industrial economies such as weaving. Instead, machine based industry takes over, and countries are either major producers or major suppliers. This in turn changed social classes, introducing a large working class to the Western world.

This is also the period of time where Western nations begin imperial projects in the global South, most notably in Africa and in South, Southeast, and East Asia. Right as Latin American colonies gained their independence, and Europe could no longer rely on sugar plantations for mercantile profit, African and Asian nations were turned into imperial colonies and used as sources of natural resources or raw materials as well as markets for European goods. The turn towards industrial capital also impacted the social and political relationship of many of the world's nations, in addition to the obvious economic relationships.

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