Tuesday, 14 January 2020

The Age of Invention

If you haven't already subscribed to Anton Howes's weekly newsletter on economic history and innovation, you should. He aims to cover the causes of the British Industrial Revolution and the history of innovation.

I hadn't known that the length of a cricket pitch goes back to the length of a standard surveying chain, Gunter's chain, set in the 1620s.

And Howes explains how the 1720s "Bubble Act" preceded the South Sea Company's crash rather than responding to it:
Importantly, as a result of the South Sea affair, Parliament introduced major restrictions on new companies. The famous “Bubble Act” of 1720, for example, prevented the formation of any new joint-stock companies with transferable shares - the kind of basic corporate form that we take for granted today - unless specially incorporated by act of Parliament or by royal charter. Curiously, the restriction was not a reaction to the crash. The Bubble Act actually preceded it, having been created by the South Sea Company itself. In order to funnel more investor money into puffing up the value its own shares, it had used its political connections to get Parliament to essentially ban the creation of any stock-market competitors. But despite the short-term aims of the act, the restrictions remained in place for well over a hundred years. Many of the most capital-intensive innovations of the British Industrial Revolution, including the rise of factories and the spread of the steam engine, thus took place despite severe limitations on companies’ ability to form and raise funds. Elements of incorporation like limited liability - again something we take for granted today - would not be made widespread until the mid-1850s.
A decade ago, this would have been a blog rather than a newsletter. Sometimes, technology regresses I suppose.

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