British Entrepreneurship in the Nineteenth Century by P L Payne

By P L Payne

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By P L Payne

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Similarly, the British manufacturer was notorious for his indifference to style, his conservatism in the face of new techniques, his reluctance to abandon the individuality of tradition for the conformity implicit in mass production. [241: 564] Aldcroft, in his first tentative exploration of the role of the British entrepreneur, reached the 'inescapable' conclusion that 'the British economy could have been made more viable had there been a concerted effort on the part of British enterprise to adapt itself more readily' [227: 134]; and Levine, after examining a number of possible explanations of industrial retardation, concluded that 'technical and organisational lag in British industry was, more than anything else, a question of entrepreneurial responses' [243: 150].

What is less certain is how representative these examples are. One suspects that the records of the smaller concerns in most industries would reveal a disproportionate concentration on the home market, not because of any lack of trade to be obtained overseas, but because of an intrinsic weakness in the small firm's ability to exploit it. It may be that during the nineteenth century exporting vigour and overseas selling was in direct relationship to the size of the firm, and that the size of the average British firm in most industrial categories was relatively small.

Indeed, of all the revisions employing econometric methods, only Lindert and Trace- using a cost-benefit calculation to measure the private profits forgone by a non-optional choice of techniques in the chemical industry - discovered an unambiguous case of entrepreneurial deficiency: among those alkali producers who clung to the Leblanc process long after the superiority of the ammonia process, patented by Solvay, was apparent [246: 239-74; for the industrial context, see Warren, 167]. On the basis of these and other studies, McCloskey expressed the belief that there was 'little left of the dismal picture of British failure painted by historians' [247: 459].

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