What is the relationship between the Industrial Revolution, commodities, and consumers?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There can be several different relationships that exist between the Industrial Revolution, commodities, and consumers.  One relationship is that the Industrial Revolution helped to deliver commodities in the hands of consumers.  Factually speaking, the Industrial Revolution transformed the process by which consumers' needs were met in the marketplace.  The consumer was able to experience the power of mass production, a setting in which commodities were produced and delivered with speed and efficiency.  The accumulation of wealth was dependent on individuals investing that wealth into industry that could produce products.  Consumers were the element that provided this wealth, as goods could be exchanged for money.  The Industrial Revolution displayed the relationship between commodities and consumers as the latter wanted more of the former.  The movement to industrialization helped to satisfy this hunger.

Interestingly enough, this narrative displays another relationship between the Industrial Revolution, commodities, and consumers.  The presence of laissez- faire economic systems valued profit over all else, reducing all external intervention that could limit it.  The consumers were not necessarily viewed as the end product in this process.  Rather, primacy was placed on the production of commodities and the accumulation of wealth.  In this light, the Industrial Revolution ushered in a moment in time where a new relationship between commodities and consumers emerged. The former was more important than the latter.  Consumer purchasing power is what moved the entire system.  Yet, as the accumulation of wealth began to develop and as it developed greater importance, the commodities being produced were critical.  The consumer's role in this became something understood and always a part of the process.  In the Industrial Revolution, the mass production of commodities and the massive accumulation of wealth that ensued almost took the consumer's role for granted.  Capitalism began to move with such force that it became its own existential reality, one where commodities and products were the absolute end product and consumers became a cog it this machine.

Finally, I would suggest that an intricate relationship might be revealed when probing the configuration that the Industrial Revolution offered.  The need to develop factories became a critical part of the Industrial Revolution. The use of coal "enabled manufacturers to replace human and animal labor with increasingly sophisticated coal-fired steam engines."  This process began to increase the rapid nature of the Industrial Revolution, for commodities and products could be produced in quicker time. The need to "fashion commodities sold at marketplace" became the driving force of the Revolution.  Consumers purchased these products.  Yet, consumers were also hastening massive changes to their own environmental condition.  Increased consumption of coal and the environmental hazards it presented helped to transform urban centers into polluted areas. Thus, the consumer who purchased commodities via Industrialization and continued to do so sped up the negative transformation of their world. Purchasing more meant producing more through coal, and thus negative environmental impacts began to appear with greater frequency.  It is in this respect in which another relationship between the Industrial Revolution, commodities, and consumers is revealed.  

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