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Revolutions: From Cotton to Big Data

POSTED BY Windsor Holden
I have recently been rereading Paul Johnson’s magnificent opus The Birth of the Modern. For the uninitiated, the book provides an analysis, breath-taking in its scope and depth, of the key political, cultural and technological events of the 1815-1830 period at both the national and international level. While Johnson is exploring the economies of the Southern United States during this period, he highlights the impact that high-velocity gearing in cotton mills had on the price of cotton cloth, which “by the early 1860s… was less than 1 per cent of its price even in 1784”. According to Johnson, “there is no instance in world history of the price of a product in potentially universal demand coming down so fast”.