In my previous post, I summarised a demand-side explanation of the British Industrial Revolution. In this post, I will outline a supply-side explanation put forward by economic historians Margaret Jacob and Joel Mokyr. According to the supporters of the supply-side explanation, Britain had a supply of human capital who were capable of using science and engineering knowledge to solve practical problems. Besides having a comparative advantage in human capital over continental Europe, by the eighteenth century, Britain had the necessary institutional environment that promoted the principles of the market economy. Interaction between the forces of market economy and science made the practical applications of scientific discoveries more successful in Britain. This did not happen in continental Europe, because, for centuries, the political and religious establishment had been restricting the advancement of science if it conflicted with their political agenda and Western Europe was politically fragmented.
At the heart of the government’s industrial strategy is a commitment to increase overall UK investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP in 2027. Currently investment stands at 1.67% of GDP. So this has got to be a good thing? Actually this target is not very ambitious when measured against comparable countries and this lack of ambition is likely to affect the future prosperity of people living in the UK.
A comparison between the UK, France and Germany using OECD data shows that the UK has invested less in R&D than France as a share of GDP since 1986 and less than Germany since 1980. These differences are large and have persisted over a long time. It is perhaps worth noting that the share of R&D spending in GDP for the United states has always been above 2.4% and recently has been at around 2.7%.
If the UK brings investment…
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