Professor Eric Jones: 1688 and the property rights mirage

In the International Studies seminar on 11 April 2012, Professor Eric Jones (La Trobe University) outlined a now common explanation of the priority of England in the Industrial Revolution, namely that the establishment of adequate legal protection of property rights following the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688/9 was an essential precondition of the expansion of trade and industry in this country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He pointed out that 1688 predated the Industrial Revolution by the best part of a century.  Concentrating on land, the most important form of property by far at that time, he said that land transactions were uncommon in the next century, that enclosures were mainly much later, that the tithe problem was a serious one until 1836, and that land ownership had remained in some confusion, causing frequent land disputes.  In consequence the transfer of land presented difficulties.  England was very late compared with some European countries in introducing land registration systems.  Communal property rights here were insecure.

An extremely lively discussion focused on the distinctions between the ownership versus the transfer of property, and property rights in land and in other things, and also on capital availability and the growth of banks in the eighteenth century.  Professor Jones reiterated his view that the Industrial Revolution depended on capital generated internally in the northern part of the country, a theory he had propounded in his previous seminar.  It was a very enjoyable seminar; there is nothing like the Industrial Revolution to get historians and economists going.