Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The British lesson of the Industrial Revolution: The drawbacks to being 1st

One of the drawbacks to being the pioneer in the Industrial Revolution, Paul Kennedy writes in The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, was that the British, being first, simply were not accustomed to competition. Hence both their industrial and social practices were encumbered, he writes, by "complacency and inefficiency." As a result, he ...

By , a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy.
Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

One of the drawbacks to being the pioneer in the Industrial Revolution, Paul Kennedy writes in The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, was that the British, being first, simply were not accustomed to competition. Hence both their industrial and social practices were encumbered, he writes, by "complacency and inefficiency."

One of the drawbacks to being the pioneer in the Industrial Revolution, Paul Kennedy writes in The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, was that the British, being first, simply were not accustomed to competition. Hence both their industrial and social practices were encumbered, he writes, by "complacency and inefficiency."

As a result, he continued, the British educational system failed to keep pace with the Americans and Germans in churning out engineers and technologists. And even when innovators surfaced, they did not necessarily succeed. Britain was a major innovator in the steel industry, he writes, but was surpassed because its wealthy did not back innovation with investments. 

Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.
Children are hooked up to IV drips on the stairs at a children's hospital in Beijing.

Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak

Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.
Henry Kissinger during an interview in Washington in August 1980.

Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage

The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.

A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.
A Ukrainian soldier in helmet and fatigues holds a cell phone and looks up at the night sky as an explosion lights up the horizon behind him.

The West’s False Choice in Ukraine

The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.

Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi
Illustrated portraits of Reps. MIke Gallagher, right, and Raja Krishnamoorthi

The Masterminds

Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.