Capital Exports during the Victorian Period

Between 1860 and 1914 net foreign investment averaged 1/3 of national income with net overseas assets forming 7% of national income in 1850 which more than quadrupled to reach 32% by 1913 (Edelstein). Contemporaries of the time along with recent economic historians have speculated that this vast amount of capital being sent abroad was detrimental to domestic growth believing that if the capital had instead been invested at home Britain would have seen more rapid growth. We will explore these arguments to find that whilst capital exports may have been slightly too excessive during the period, it didn’t cause a huge impact on domestic growth.

Did small scale firms inhibit Victorian Growth?

Britain’s manufacturing firms have been accused of remaining family-run and small scale in the period 1850-1914, so ignoring the benefits of the large corporation evident in the USA. Discuss whether this represents a form of entrepreneurial failure by the owners of British firms.

Chandler identifies that corporation’s in America are vertically and horizontally integrated, invested in new technology and produced the latest industrial wares such as electricals, chemicals and automobiles. Britain was characterised by an “atomistic organisation of production”, according to Elbaum and Lazonick, with many small firms that were run by families. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1880s less than 10% of the manufacturing sector was accounted for by the largest 100 firms, the US figure was 22% (Hannah 1983). [...]

Was there a Victorian Failure in Manufacturing?

Comparisons of Britain’s labour productivity in manufacturing with that of other industrialised countries, such as the USA and Germany, from 1850-1914 suggest no dramatic decline in this sector during the period. However, labour productivity performance at the whole economy level was poor in comparison to other countries. (a) How can this be explained (b) Does it suggest a failure occurring in the UK economy?

Over the period 1850-1914 there was a decline in Britain’s overall labour productivity comparative to its competitors – against the US Britain was more productive in 1870 but was overtaken during the 1890s – in 1870 US/UK labour productivity in the aggregate economy was 89.8 which rose to 117.7 in 1910 (Broadberry 2006) demonstrating the ability of foreign nations to overtake Britain on this measure. [...]