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Slowing Down and Falling Behind: Industrial Retardation in Britain after 1870

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Abstract

By the end of the nineteenth century many people in Britain had become aware that their country had gradually slipped from the position of unrivalled economic supremacy which it had enjoyed for over a hundred years. The most obvious sign of difficult times occurred in the Great Depression of the mid-1880s, after more than a decade of steeply falling prices had caused both a sharp decline in incomes from arable farming and reduced profits for many manufacturers. The collapse of arable farming in the face of growing supplies of cheap imports hit both farmers and landowners very hard, and this sector of agriculture never recovered its former prosperity. But for the rest of the economy the fall in prices was only a temporary and, in many respects, a secondary problem. Indeed, for the majority of wage-earners it was actually very beneficial, since falling prices increased the purchasing power of their meagre earnings.

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