Demand Before Supply

“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”

Adam Smith

 Cottage Industry

The Industrial Revolution is a story about transforming the workplace. Without this perspective, it is difficult to envision the enormous changes that occurred in the lives of those who lived during this time.  The brief lines in a history book rarely capture the angst of the participants who sustain these changes.   Looking back from our more “advanced” age, is seems as if the transition occurred within the normal patterns of progress, based on the demands of a growing population.

Consumption patterns during the Industrial Revolution increased dramatically, based on a generation eager to embrace consumerism as never before.  The textile industry’s growth was built on the insatiable appetite for cloth that was inexpensive and readily available. The only possible way to achieve economic success was to create machinery.    Which was easier said than done!

Textile production, as a cottage industry, had been in place for centuries.  Before the Industrial Revolution, whole families were engaged in what was known as the “domestic system.” Work was completed on a small scale at home, with everyone pitching in to help.  It was a laborious task, beginning with cleaning the wool after it had been sheared from the sheep, carding the wool to separate the fibres, and spinning the wool into a ball of yarn.   A skilled weaver would use a hand-loom to weave the yarn into a finished product that would be sold to a clothier.  Generally the spinning was considered a women’s work,usually unmarried; hence the word “spinster.”  Weaving was considered a masculine occupation.

The tipping point came with the importation of cotton.  With the surge in demand for cloth made out of cotton over the standard wool or flax, the finely tuned balance of demand and supply was upset. The existing system for producing the cotton thread (yarn) could not turn out enough thread for the looms.

What was once sufficient became outdated, inadequate and unwanted in a world impatient for progress.  The only alternative was to restructure work.  The cottage industry could not withstand the factory system.  There was no turning back.

“Prior to the industrial revolution, a working person would be lucky to have one or two shirts.”

James Meigs, Editor in Chief, Popular Mechanics

 

Next posts:

  • James Hargreaves, Another Genius
  • The Patent Race
  • Claims & Counterclaims
  • Mighty Machines
  • All the Children

99 thoughts on “Demand Before Supply

  1. Where was the last picture taken? Great atmosphere. Spinning really interests me but I am resisting temptation as I know as soon as I learn to spin the next thing I will want are sheep. It’s a slippery slope! LOL!

    Like

    • Do not resist temptation! You are so very creative, I can only imagine the artwork that would come of this adventure. Think of all the fun it would be to raise sheep!? All the photos were taken at Mary Arden’s Farm, the birthplace of Shakespeare. What a remarkable place. It was stepping back into the Tudor era, with chickens, pigs, cows, and yes sheep – lots of sheep. If you go now, (I’ll meet you there) there is an exhibition celebrating 500 years at Mary Arden’s Farm. Here is the link!

      http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/visit-the-houses/mary-ardens-farm.html

      Like

      • Pretty cool. My husband and I have recently said it is almost time to visit the UK again….. of course that is to watch Liverpool F.C. play, but I am sure he would be keen to see the sheep too. Flying with 5 kids is the scary part! Thanks for the link.

        Like

  2. would you think it odd if I told you that when my daughter was sixteen, we sat down and I read he wealth of nations out loud? That was a tough read 🙂

    Like

    • No, Bill! I would not think it is odd at all! The first time we met you were able to quote, verbatim, passages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. You had me skimming through my copies to find the response. I do smile when I think of you and your daughter reading “The Wealth of Nations” – a real page turner. One thing is very certain – You have an amazing daughter. This is one of my favourite passages, which holds a great deal of truth.

      “In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations

      Like

  3. Two shirts should be plenty! I have a number of shirts but, truth to tell, I tend to wear only a couple of favourites. I am not the best friend of the producer! Looking forward to those coming posts.

    Like

    • Thank you for your encouraging comments. I wish that I had added photos of the pigs, goats, chickens and cows that were at this farm. Next time… 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

  4. So few are aware of the work involved in making a single item of clothing. Of course it’s done mostly by machine nowadays, but how many people actually stop and think about how the raw material is transformed into something useful and necessary. Same for food production. We take so much for granted.

    Like

    • I agree – we take it all for granted! And there are consequences that attend our ignorance. A couple of years ago, I read Ellen Ruppel Shell’s “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.” That was when I first heard the term “frugalist”which I have come to think is an excellent way to measure value. The whole idea of consumption is undergoing a radical shift these past few years, given the current economic uncertainty. I am adding a definition of “frugalist” – I think you will find it interesting.

      The frugalist takes a vital interest in his tools, in his land, and in the goods he produces. He has a definite attachment to each. He dislikes to see an old coat wear out, an old wagon break down, or an old horse go lame. He always thinks of concrete things, wants them and nothing else. He desires not land, but a given farm, not horses or cattle and machines, but particular breeds and implements; not shelter, but a home…. He rejects as unworthy what is below standard and despises as luxurious what is above or outside of it. Dominated by activities, he thinks of capital as a means to an end.” Ellen Ruppel Shell, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

      Like

      • I saw an article a couple of years ago slamming people who are frugal, those who live within their means. I found it very offensive. Credit is what feeds the banking system monster and keeps the population enslaved. So, let’s make everyone feel like the worst thing to be is frugal.
        The best thing my husband and I ever did was pay off everything and stop buying things unless we can pay for them on the spot. It’s wonderful to be free.

        Like

      • I am celebrating with you! Freedom from debt is liberating. Freedom from the trap of consumerism is even more liberating. My dad always liked to quote Will Rogers:

        “Too many people spend money they earned..to buy things they don’t want..to impress people that they don’t like.”

        I am proud of being a frugalista!!!

        Like

  5. Shame we couldn’t find balance along the way. While we don’t need 30 shirts we definitely need more than two! Since the industrial revolution we’ve created the neverending problem of what to do with it all.

    Like

    • How well said! Have you ever noticed that we know how to accumulate, but we have very little knowledge on how to de-accumulate. It seems that we attach emotional sentiment to “things” because they remind us of someone, or a special event. I still have the table place cards for my nephew’s wedding that we attended in 2008. I was looking up quotes on thrift and frugality the other day. There are some gems dating back centuries. The one I liked the most was by Confucius: “He who does not economize will have to agonize.”

      Like

      • Great quote. My issue is I hardly shop but yet stuff seems to multiply. I do attach a lot of sentimental value to things. Especially the things my kids do and make. But also items that have been passed down for a few generations.

        Like

      • Those items that have been passed from generation to generation offer an intense connection to those who have gone before us. They hold stories and memories that are irreplaceable. For me (who framed a crocheted peacock that belonged to a grandmother in my past – and I don’t even know who she was), it is very difficult to disconnect the “thing” from the “memory.” We have a rule in our home – if we bring something new through the door, something must be given away. It keeps me honest! 🙂

        Like

  6. The Industrial Revolution is such a multi-complex blessing and curse. A blessing for all the jobs and prosperity. A curse for all the greed, over-expansion, that ultimately is costing jobs and creating suffering. The fault is not in the inventions, the fault lies with humankind which is a sad statement. I’d love to see more good come of spreading it around. Along that line wishing you and yours a very Happy Easter. ❤

    Like

    • Happy Easter, my dear friend!!! Thank you for adding depth to this dialogue. I find the comments add so much to my understanding and give me new avenues to pursue. I agree – the Industrial Revolution offers complexities that we still grapple with in our age of technology. I am enjoying this mini-research project because it is allowing me to reflect on my actions, my choices, my values. You are right, the fault is not in the inventions. ❤

      “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Adam Smith

      Like

    • Thank you so much!! I am enjoying my research project and learning as I go along. I am finding that our “advanced” world is not so different than that of the Industrial Revolution. 🙂

      Like

  7. I am relieved to have witnessed to some extent the revival of cottage industries in the U.S., as large scale production seems to inevitably result in dehumanization. Textiles are so beautiful, I regret that I never learned to spin and weave…then again there is a large chasm between acquiring these skills as an artist, and the tediousness of performing them hour after hour, year after year, to the unenviable title “spinster”…

    Like

    • I share your relief – there is more and more evidence of people returning to cottage industries.

      A very good point – “large chasm between acquiring these skills….and the tediousness of performing them.” It is easy to think that artists have these epiphanies where their creative genius miraculously appears in a flash. I think art is the act of living, and sometimes there is tedium. Even tedium has its profound moments.

      “Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.” W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

      Like

  8. One or two shirts?! Wow! Our appetites for “stuff” have certainly increased with along with our capability to produce things easily. Very interesting post! 🙂

    Like

    • I was thinking the same thing – I have a closet full of stuff, and somehow, I always seem to chose one of my two favourite shirts. The cost of clothes may have decreased, but we have had a corresponding rise in food costs. More and more people are taking to their kitchens, shopping with lists, and reducing their food wastage. Which is good progress. We live in interesting times.

      Like

  9. Ein interessanter Beitrag über die industrielle Entwicklung unserer Gesellschaft. Es brauchte Pioniere, die Fabriken bauten und den Menschen Arbeit und Verdienst ermöglichten, damit sie zu Konsumenten wurden und den Pionieren Geld einbrachten.
    Ich selber bin ein kein guter Konsument mehr. Ich brauche mehr meinen Verstand und meinen Geist im Leben als Ware.
    Meine Frau hatte in jungen Jahren, bevor sie wegen einer schweren Hirn-OP invalid wurde, mit selbst gewaschener, bearbeiteter, gesponnener und gefärbter Schafwolle Bilder mit griechischen Sujets (Ferien) gewoben. So freute mich dieser Beitrag! – er rief schöne Erinnerungen in mir hervor. Alles Gute. Ernst

    Like

    • Vielen Dank für Ihre Kommentare. Sie Tiefe und Verständnis fügen immer zum Gespräch. Unsere Welt ist voll von Unsicherheit und Angst, aber wenn ich zurückblicke, hat es nie eine Zeit, als wir erlebt Gewissheit. Kaufen Sie, was wir nicht benötigen nur noch auf dieser Unsicherheit. Am Ende geht es darum, unsere Verbindungen mit unserer Familie und Freunden – die, die wir lieben und schätzen. Was ich will, ist es, die meisten bleibende Erinnerungen für meinen Sohn zu erstellen, so dass er sich daran erinnern, dass jeder Moment zählt. Diese Freiheit kommt von innen.

      Like

  10. Dear Rebecca,
    like always a great article 🙂 Thanks for sharing your ideas.
    Following Karl Marx’s ideas in “Das Kapital” the division of labour became prominent with industrialisation and by that alienation. And so the two faced exploitation started on the material level as well as on the psychological one.
    I agree with Gallivanta although I have got more than two shirts I always wear few of my favourite clothes. It’s amazing how much more stuff we have than we really need.
    Don’t we all suffer from greed? Greed seen as a symptom of alienation …
    But there seems to be a dialectical change: More and more people reduce their consuming and especially these folks who have been the big consumers – at least I notice this in my surroundings. Consuming and shopping becomes something that the working class does but not the upper class, that seems to be the new idea.
    Thanks again for your inspiring article.
    Lots of love from Merry Old England and Good Old Germany
    Klausbernd & Dina and our beloved Bookfayries Siri & Selma

    Like

    • I agree wholeheartedly – “the two faced exploitation started on the material level as well as on the psychological one.” This, I think would be of interest to you: I was just reading that sporting the latest tech toy can make you seem more like a leader! (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140417191133.htm) There is stiff competition in the job market, especially for young people. We define who we are by what we do – especially in the work environment. The possibility of buying “respect” is a powerful motivator.

      Your thoughts about consumption in the working class verses the upper class interests me a great deal – something for me to think about! Especially when marketers suggest that a purchase will position the buyer into the upper class.

      Lots of love and hugs going back across the waters to Merry Old England and Good Old Germany – Klausbernd & Dina and the marvelous Bookfayries Siri & Selma 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

      • Dear Rebecca,
        one of the first criticism of consumerism I came across was Uncle Dagobert from Disney’s Micky Mouse booklets. He is the very rich guy who is avaricious, he doesn’t like spending money. I see it here in England the people at the council houses drive big cars, have the newest fridge and of course a snazy TVs whereas the owners of the big estates drive a moderate car and don’t follow the newest fashion. I suppose the working class need to buy respect whereas the upper class does not. These people can afford to be against consumerism. I can give a perfect example of this class difference: I was sitting with Donald, my neighbour, at our lane when a open Porsche came by driven by a lady in a fashionable dress. Donald, rich as rich can be, turned to me saying: “I think we have to move. Look those poor people are coming who have to show off.” Of course England has this tradition of understatement and you have this in the intellectual upper middle class in Germany as well. Consumerism and shopping is bad style. And look at the Green Party in Germany, it is elected by the people with the highest income.
        We tell jokes here about the rich young bankers but I suppose they have jokes about us oldies with our ideologies as well.
        Have a happy week, big HUGs
        Klausbernd 🙂 xx

        Like

      • You are going to smile at my response – your inspired me to quote again!!! 🙂 “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” Epictetus

        Perhaps it is about creating more and consuming less. Given our economic uncertainty, I think that we may be undergoing a transition. There is less impulse buying, and more creativity in choices. We are all consumers, that is a given. But once we find that we don’t need all of the “stuff” we have this sense of freedom, purpose. Donald, your rich as rich can be friend, is quite right. When we are “poor in thought and creative spirit” we must look at other avenues to find relevance.

        Thank you, Klausbernd – you have given me much to think about. Happy, happy week to you! Hugs to the Fab Four! 🙂

        Like

      • Dear Rebecca,
        thanks for the Epictetos quote. I just had a look into my collected works of Epictetos. One of his basic questions was “can we learn to be happy?” Actually he reflects problems that seem to us modern, but he wrote abour 2000 years ago – all Stoics seem to me quite modern.
        With lots of love and a big hug
        Klausbernd 🙂

        Like

      • Dear Rebecca, good morning,
        I just had a look: In Germany the last edition of the collected works of Epiktetos was published 7 years ago and had 4 runs and several reprints. So he is still read and I agree he will be surely read in 100 years as well.
        I send you Hugs from the other side of our globe xx
        Klausbernd xx
        Dina is in Norway with our Bookfayries Siri & Selma

        Like

      • Dear Klausbernd! I am truly delighted to hear that! Somehow that gives me a measure of comfort! Thank you so much – hugs to the Fab Four across the oceans! Sunshine in Vancouver – heading out for an adventure! 🙂

        Like

  11. It’s surprising how we can use a word for years and years and never consider the derivation and meaning. Then it’s such a delight when we think of it or someone points out why, for example, we call an unmarried woman a spinster.

    When new inventions save us from the drudgery of the past, we just seem to invent other things to keep us busy. Now instead of spinning and weaving and sewing, we shop and arrange our closets and wash our clothes after a single wearing and need outfits for every occasion. I’m not complaining though. I like to shop–although my closet is in need of a good cleaning out.

    Like

    • I had to smile when I found the meaning of “spinster.” I would never have guessed. What I was even more interested in learning was that the cottage industries were the genesis of the nuclear family structure. When I think about new inventions, I realize how many have come within my lifetime: microwave oven, Ziploc bags, cell phones, digital cameras, cam-recorders, even the computer mouse. And consider the medical advancements!!! Your words, “we just seem to invent other things to keep us busy” is the key to is all. The biggest challenge of the Industrial Revolution (as it is today) is the restructuring of work – how to keep relevant within a work environment that is undergoing rapid change.

      Like

  12. I love the photo of the spinning wheel. My friend just told me that she gave her spinning wheel to someone who would use it. So–spinning wheels may not be a thing of the past.

    Like

    • I agree – I think that spinning and weaving is experiencing a resurgence. And I think it is because we are looking to simplify our lives, unclutter our minds so that we can create more meaningful experiences. 🙂

      Like

    • Ah Letizia, there are so many stories that are hidden in the folds of history. I think that is why I am enjoying going back in time – I feel like I’m on some kind of a treasure hunt.

      “Seaward ho! Hang the treasure! It’s the glory of the sea that has turned my head.” Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

      Like

  13. Clan, you write such interesting posts, I probably would have done much better during my high school years had I had a few teachers like you. And I don’t mean to imply you are a teacher, just that you would be good at it. Clearly your a bit of historian, and little of this and a little of that, But I have truly enjoyed your explanations of events that have had everlasting impact on all of us. Take care, Bill

    Like

    • My dear friend, I was going to be a teacher once upon a time…

      I think that we are all teachers in our own way – think of all the information that you provide on your blog. Since joining the blogging community, my knowledge acquisition has increased exponentially. I really value the comments – they have given me a deeper clarity of the issues that we face today. Thank you for your visits! 🙂

      Like

    • I agree wholeheartedly. And we aren’t the only ones. According to what I’ve read, cotton represents over 50% of fabrics made and sold globally. The reason: breathability, strength and versatility! Heat passes through the fabric which allows our bodies to regulate our temperatures. Something I didn’t know: when cotton gets wet, it becomes stronger. Today, its a billion-dollar industry. Wouldn’t Richard Arkwright be proud!!!

      Like

  14. I love, love, love the video on Mary Arden’s farm. Thank you!
    What I do not love is that my like got erased. I came back just to check because it happens a lot~

    Like

    • I love cotton, too! I continue to be amazed by how many steps it has taken to get to where we are today when it comes to fabric production. I am learning as I go along! 🙂

      Like

  15. As I read this post, I kept thinking, “Hey, I read about the Industrial Revolution back in school.” Sad really that I haven’t thought about it lately. Thanks for teaching me more about history here and for the well-written post.

    Like

    • Thank you, Christy, for your comments – very much appreciated. We live in a complex, fast-paced global world, where technologies are transforming our work environments and the way we chose our careers. Sometimes we believe that we are the only generation to sustain this type change. Yet, when I look back, I think there have been others before us. The Industrial Revolution is our story, just as much as it was for those who lived within that time frame. There are so many narratives hidden within the folds of history. I am learning as I go along! 🙂

      Like

  16. “Prior to the industrial revolution, a working person would be lucky to have one or two shirts.” But then those two shirts were really cherished. Unlike nowadays when we constantly buy new ones, even though we don’t really need them. Really enjoyed your article. Thanks!

    Like

    • You are so right – cherished. One of the reasons I am following the Industrial Revolution is to look at the progress of decision making. Along the way we have chosen quantity over quality to support a social order that professes enlightenment while pursuing vanity. Not because we are vain or egocentric, but simply because we get caught up in forces of movement. I am so glad that we are connected. I am enjoying following your blog and looking forward to our continued dialogue.

      Like

  17. Gorgeous photos. Ah the Wealth of Nations! How I struggled with that in college. Influential, revolutionary, and for me, almost impenetrable. Your post inspired me google-review Adam Smith’s main points, and also to survey the number of shirts in my closet. (Let’s just say many.)

    Wouldn’t you love to get Thomas Picketty in the same room with Smith, and hear what they might have to say to one another?

    Like

    • Oh!! What a marvelous conversation they would have! I have goosebumps just thinking about it! As for closets – I just went through mine again – felt great! Looking forward to our continued dialogue! 🙂

      “Over a long period of time, the main force in favor of greater equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills.” Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

      “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” Adam Smith

      Like

  18. Hello ClanMother,

    A very enlightened post. I really enjoyed the reading…
    Adam Smith was such a visionary .
    He left us a great legacy, which is alive among the pages of “The Wealth of Nations”. That quote by him at the very beginning of the posts applies so well to our global societies leaded by free trade and markets.
    Thanks for sharing. Best wishes to you,
    Aquileana 😀

    Like

    • I agree – Adam Smith was a visionary. He lived during a time of great change, very much like we are experiencing today. I often wonder if he envisioned the world as it would become when he wrote “The Wealth of Nations.” Thank you for adding your thoughts to this dialogue, Aquileana – very much appreciated.

      Like

  19. You’ve touched on a fascination piece of pre-industrial revolution. I used to live up north where the Spinning Jenny’ was made. I was intrigued by the modernist and luddites. The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the … The principal objection of the Luddites was to the introduction of new Spinning Jenny. I dont know why exactly but I felt sympathy for the counter revolution. I suspect it has something to do with my scottish ancestrial roots and an over-arching belief in people over technology. Freedom over efficiency.

    Like

    • I am so very sorry for my late response. About a week ago my computer had a total meltdown – happened right in the middle of a blog post. Everything went black. So I have been computerless for about a week, except for my trusty iPhone! This hiatus was a reminder that we are in a vibrant, global conversation via wires and cables. It is great to be back and connecting again. 🙂

      I agree with your thought – “freedom over efficiency, people over technology.” I’m going back to reexamine this time period because there are strong linkages to our reality. What is progress? How does it affect our thought process? How do we participate without losing our identity? 🙂 Thank you for adding depth to the dialogue.

      Like

      • What is progress?
        For me there is freedom in Community. Like M Scott Peck reminds us, it’s not so much great leaps forwards… more cautious steps into the unknown, our own psyche, learning what makes us human as we come around like Jimmy Carter to build, or in his case – rebuild, Community,

        How does it affect our thought process?
        I believe the progress we make, or don’t make in freedom, is the same dilemma for most of us. Still it requires thought; for we have to grapple with technology as a two edged sword, one that bring us closer together, by virtue of rapid communication, and the gifts that brings, but also understanding the vibrant global conversation has risks, there’s a whole new social media world my children are entering, and it concerns me – to say the least – where they may be heading into, albeit unwittingly.
        I guess each generation has these thoughts, for the next generation. And the author Isaac Asimov had similar feelings of reticence; about speed of progress we’ve made through advances technology, though he was a visionary of much that had already come true before he died.

        How do we participate without losing our identity?
        We stay connected with ourselves, with the people we care for in our lives, and those on the fringe of our lives. I think of identity as a collective experience, a larger than I place to inhabit. If we can harness technology in a way that can balance our collectivity, as well as connectivilty, then we may have a chance. I’d call that progress, or art, or life…the most important thing in art is life. I don’t think you can divorce art from life.
        I believe, then, in this new age of enlightenment we are all poets; whether we know it or not, for the role of the poet is the same as that of anyone else—to examine why we are here and what we’re going to do while we are here.

        …with peace and a Mona Lisa 🙂

        Like

      • How wonderful to read your words of wisdom. I agree with your thoughts on community. Community allows us to explore connections and share knowledge. I believe that only within the context of community can we truly reach our personal potential. It is a place that provides sanctuary, safety, and healing. As you noted, our identity is strengthened by participating in a way that affirms our values and mission. I have the following quote on my computer desktop to remind me that we can create meaningful, resilient communities. Thank you so much for adding depth to this dialogue! 🙂

        “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Kurt Vonnegut

        Like

      • I like Kurt Vonnegut’s message, it resonates with my own feeling. I felt this very strongly in co-operative, where the spiritual – educational community join forces to demonstration, compassion, wisdom and humour; a place like the Findhorn Foundation in Forres, Scotland. Their profound openness and trust continues to build Community.

        Like

      • I just went on the Findhorn Foundation website. This is amazing. And I will be in Inverness this summer – have added Findhorn to our itinerary. Thank you so much for this lead.

        I have found that exclusivity and elitism, no matter how well intended, fosters a competitiveness, rather than an openness. I continue to learn…. 🙂

        Like

Comments are closed.