Episode 16: The Agricultural Revolution; the Dutch and Trade

We introduce the idea that a primitive welfare state operates in Tudor England, however this is met with disbelief. Listen to episode 17 to hear the idea elaborated with examples and studies.

We try to bridge the inferential gap between us and the past by bringing in the limits imposed by high transportation costs and limited transportation networks. If inadequate food is produced one year within the area limited by your transportation technology, there will be starvation.

The Dutch innovate with methods of transportation that give them a much larger area from which to draw food supplies. This is the first step that leads to the Agricultural Revolution.

Another problem of inferential distance is the focus all farmers have, “in their very bones” of growing enough grain to feed themselves rather than relying on a market to feed themselves. This had to be overcome to allow people to specialize and get more economically efficient and thereby rise out of poverty.

The Dutch had twice the population engaged in industry as the rest of the continent. Concomitantly, they had half the proportion involved in agriculture. So they are more economically efficient and richer by far than the rest of Europe. These were the people the English would try to imitate.

David Friedman’s Wizard of San Diego example for describing international trade is the basis for a digression on basic economics.

An artists interpretation of the Horse Collar.
The total economic output in England since 1270.

How the Middle Ages’ heavy plough changed the world.

A bit more on the agricultural revolution in Medieval Europe.

These things helped the balance of population in Europe shift northward, but didn’t break people free from the Malthusian grain trap.  This episode is all about the great prison break.  The agricultural revolution arc starting episode 18 gives us the details that explain how England, the United Provinces and the Danes were able to have yields 80% higher than the rest of the continent.

From National Geographic- an interesting article on Holland’s agricultural impact today.