A Game to Catch

In: Business and Management

Submitted By bsentissi
Words 2467
Pages 10
A game of catch-up
The shift in economic power from West to East is accelerating, says John O’Sullivan. The rich world will lose some of its privileges
Sep 24th 2011 | from the print edition * *

QUARRY BANK MILL is a handsome five-storey brick building set in the valley of the river Bollin at Styal, a small English village a few miles south of Manchester. It was built in 1784 by Samuel Greg, a merchant, who found profit in supplying cotton thread to Lancashire’s weavers. The raw cotton shipped from America’s slave plantations was processed on the latest machinery, Richard Arkwright’s water frame. Later Greg extended the factory and installed coal-fired steam engines to add to the water power from the Bollin. All this gave a huge boost to productivity. In 1700 a spinster with a pedal-driven spinning wheel might take 200 hours to produce a pound of yarn. By the 1820s it would take her around an hour.
Greg’s mill was part of a revolution in industry that would profoundly alter the world’s pecking order. The new technologies—labour-saving inventions, factory production, engines powered by fossil fuels—spread to other parts of western Europe and later to America. The early industrialisers (along with a few late developers, such as Japan) were able to lock in and build on their lead in technology and living standards.
The “great divergence” between the West and the rest lasted for two centuries. The mill at Styal, once one of the world’s largest, has become a museum. A few looms, powered by the mill’s water wheel, still produce tea towels for the gift shop, but cotton production has long since moved abroad in search of low wages. Now another historic change is shaking up the global hierarchy. A “great convergence” in living standards is under way as poorer countries speedily adopt the technology, know-how and policies that made the West rich. China and…...

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