The Protestant belief that success in the material world was a sign of divine favor and that income was to be saved and invested in productive enterprise has been linked to Britain's commercial past.
The belief that Protestantism and capitalism were related is viewed with skepticism by scholars today, partly because Catholic capitalists on the Continent were also successful, if a bit later and less prominently.
The success of Jewish capitalists in modern times has led to similar debates about the role of Jewish religion.
In the northwestern areas where capitalism was most successful, the Jewish population was very small.
Some members of all three religious groups, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, had commercial and urban pasts, and perhaps the safest generalization is that a commercial and urban past played a role.
One of the more frequently mentioned preconditions of industrialization in Britain was an earlier "revolution" in agriculture.
The agricultural transformation was more gradual than the industrial one, so the term can be misleading.
The legislative aspects involved the passage through Parliament of hundreds of "enclosure acts" that allowed for a more all-embracing claim to private ownership of the land by large landowners.
The spirit behind the enclosure movement was "capitalistic" in the sense that those with that spirit strive to find more efficient uses of the land by closer, more rigorous supervision of it, producing greater profits and thus more ample accumulation of capital for further investment.
The large landlords introduced significant innovations in such matters as farm implements, fertilization, and stock breeding.
The enclosure of land involved abolishing the traditional claims to partial use of it by the common people was denounced by the many contemporary critics of the movement.
The enclosure acts brought an end to the open fields of premodern times, to the former right to gather fallen wood, and to the semicooperative or "feudal" methods of cultivation.
Over the course of the eighteen century, the ownership of land in this more private sense became widespread and resulted in a concentration of large holdings in England that were more extensive and significant than in any other area of northwestern Europe.
The former tradition-bound and relatively inefficient villagers were gradually replaced by more substantial, more competent, and more productive farmers who rented plots of land from the squires and then hired agricultural laborers to work the land for wages.
More abundant and cheaper food in Britain can be attributed to the gain in agricultural productivity through this gradual process.
It also meant that many rural inhabitants were drawn away from the intricate, often non-monetary economic relationships of the past and integrated into a market system in which they were simply paid wages.
Britain's population grew to an unprecedented extent in the same years.
By the 1780s, more efficient managers had access to a relatively mobile and more numerous working population, ready to move to where they could find the best wages.
The process occurred in Britain earlier than anywhere else in Europe.
Before the industrial revolution, the British had long been known as "money-grubbing" people because of their tendency to calculate profit and loss on the market.
By the end of the 19th century, Britain was ahead of other countries in modernizing trends, despite the fact that the transition from the premodern "Jolly Old England" of personalized relationships to a more impersonal and efficient world was not complete.
In considering Spain and Italy in these years, one can see that both agricultural innovation and industrialization came later to them.
Large areas of the mountainous interior of both countries were not easily accessible, despite the fact that both countries had long coastlines.
The land was arid, the soil was rocky, and the deposits of coal and iron were small.
A large portion of the population of Spain and Italy were poor.
The upper and middle classes didn't pay much attention to the world of commerce because there were so few urban areas.
Britain was ruled by a single monarch, a single parliament, and a single legal system, and it was more politically and institutionally unified than were Spain and Italy.
Its population used a single currency, internal trade did not face significant customs barriers, and banking institutions were being fashioned that allowed for a smooth flow of capital.
The growing number of British workers who were not tied to the land or under the control of village authorities moved to new areas of employment, and the burgeoning industrial areas were hiring at salaries that were often attractive to people facing worsening conditions in the villages.
France has a different kind of contrast to Britain.
Spain was known to refer to France as a garden, a place of unusual natural wealth, beauty, and splendor.
To live like God in France was a common expression.
The stage of industrial productivity reached by Britain by the late eighteenth century was not reached by France for another fifty years or more.
There were several reasons for this slowness.
Britain was a victorious country in the 19th century, having suffered no battles on its territory and having retained its mastery of the seas.
Part of the explanation for the country's slow development is due to France's revolutionary chaos, its expenditures in warfare, and the massive loss of men in their most productive years.
During Napoleon's rule, France pillaged much of Europe, but it was less likely to be put into productive investments than it was in Britain.
France had to pay an indemnity of 700 million Francs after Napoleon's hundred days.
The legal and institutional reforms of the Revolution paved the way for the French economy to benefit.
The country had established a centralized national government and banking institutions, as well as acquiring a standardized currency and metric system.
The reforms were not enough to tip the balance since it took quite some time for them to be up and running.
France's entrenched class structure and national character made it difficult for rapid industrialization.
By the first decades of the 19th century, the country's rural lower classes remained larger than in Britain.
France's peasantry was less interested in production for the market and more tied to the land.
The middle ranks of French society, or bourgeoisie, included industrial and commercial entrepreneurs, some of whom resembled the British capitalists in plowing their profits back into business expansion and innovation, but there was nonetheless a tendency among this element in France to divert its profits to the acquisition of prestigious estates.
It is worth repeating the point made in Chapter 2 that the French bourgeoisie at this time and in centuries past was not a distinct social class with a common identity.
The town-dwellers were not a unified entity by the 19th century.
There were many subtle changes within the French bourgeoisie by the late 18th century.
The poor elements of the bourgeoisie tended to regard the owners of significant amounts of capital as threats to their wellbeing, because they had little in common with modern capitalists in lifestyle and mentality.
The most influential element of the French bourgeoisie is this segment.