Why didn't Gandalf own a Colt .45?
Part I of Why hasn't Middle Earth had an Industrial Revolution?
Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. They do not and did not understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom
- The Red Book of Westmarch
Confession time. I have never read Lord of the Rings. I’ve tried. It’s boring as hell. I simply cannot bring myself to care about the various Hobbits, Bobbits, Vishtarwë the Maleficents, Gandalf the Eggshell Off-White’s and so on.
I like fantasy books, I really do! I even adore the Hobbit, but LOTR just utterly fails to capture my interest with its overly detailed lore, meandering exposition, and total disjointedness from the Hobbit. Seriously, imagine if 20 years later the authors of Winnie the Pooh came back with a trilogy of books about how Piglet and Rooh were dragged into a world-ending contest of good versus evil that gave them PTSD and then they got on a boat to heaven-America with a bunch of heffalumps. That’s how LOTR feels to me.
There’s also one other question that bothers me:
When Gandalf is imprisoned on the pinnacle of Orthanc, why doesn’t he just pull out his Remington 870 pump action shotgun and just start unloading into the Oruk-Hai?
“What a stupid question,” you say, “This is just a work of fiction, it doesn’t need to conform to your standards of ‘realism’ and, even if it did, it’s set during the equivalent of the middle ages, of course they don’t have guns.” Well, smart ass, first of all everything absolutely does have to conform to my unnecessary standards, you philistine. Second, you would think it’s the middle ages, but human society has actually been around in Middle Earth about as long as it has in ours.1 Weird right?
And so I present: an investigation into the most minute details of the world-building of The Lord of the Rings, by someone who’s never finished the books (but has seen the extended edition movies!) and is really just using it as a way to externally motivate himself to do some reading.
But first, let me be specific. My question isn’t just why Gandalf doesn’t own any sort of firearm. Any pansy from like ~1200 A.D. onwards could get their hand on a tube that shoots out some metal bits.2 I want to know why Gandalf, wielder of some of the most elite weaponry in Middle Earth, doesn’t own a top of the line 5.56mm M16A2 with an adjustable stock.3 I want to know why Gandalf, premier purveyor of magical explosives, hasn’t got his hands on an FGM-148 Javelin Missile Anti-Tank Weapons System.4
In other words, why hasn’t Middle Earth had an industrial revolution, where technology and the economy have advanced to a point where Gandalf can get his hands on the sort of weapons that would make Sting and Glamdring look like expensive box cutters?
Like I touched on before, from the dawn of the second age to the point that Gandalf is seized in Orthanc there was a 6459 year gap. From the dawn of Elven civilization (which seems to have begun at a much higher level of technology than our world did) during the first age to his imprisonment ,something like 11,000 years have passed.5 For comparison, both Sumerian Mesopotamia and Egyptian civilization developed approximately 6,000 years ago.6 7 And even that second number of >11,000 years is being generous to Tolkien! If you really wanted to stack the deck against him, some form of intelligent organized civilization that is invested in discovery and creation has been on Middle Earth for over 45,000 years.
Obviously, it’s not the case that all configurations of the world teleologically approach industrialization, but this much time having passed suggests that it’s not just that Middle Earth is at an earlier point on the same path to development that we were on, but rather that something is fundamentally different about their technological and economic progress.
This leaves open two possibilities: 1. Tolkein is a bad world builder and vastly overrated or 2. There are different structural conditions and historically contingent factors that put Middle Earth on a very different path of economic development from our world such that the Industrial Revolution wouldn’t have occurred.
My plan for these posts is to go step by step and look at various theories for the cause of industrialization with two questions in mind. First, is the theory actually a good or reasonable explanation for why the Industrial Revolution happened and, second, are conditions such in Middle Earth that we would expect to see similar outcomes.
II. Preempting the pedants, did the Industrial Revolution even happen?
He bitterly regretted his foolishness, and reproached himself for weakness of will; for he now perceived that in [disagreeing with the premise of this post] he obeyed not his own desire but the commanding wish of his enemies.
-The Red Book of Westmarch
“But wait!” you say, in that nasally voice reserved for someone who thinks they are about to make a very clever point. “Aren’t you presuming that there is such a discrete entity as the Industrial Revolution? I think you’ll find that there is widespread academic disagreement about what and when the Industrial Revolution was.”
First, I’m sorry you didn’t get invited to parties in college.
Second, yes I think it’s broadly correct to dispute that there is a clear demarcation of what the Industrial Revolution was and even if it actually happened.
The sort of model of the IR that we get taught in high school goes something like. “Life sucked, then the steam engine was invented, this let us make a lot of things. Life doesn’t suck now.” For high schoolers, that’s probably a reasonable way of explaining it, but it is definitely over simplifying.
There’s very reasonable disagreement about the initial impact of changes in manufacturing technology on living standards, overall economic output, etc.8 9 It’s also right to point out that Britain may have been experiencing (low levels of) sustained growth prior to what is classically demarcated as the Industrial Revolution.10 11 Furthermore, it neglects other changes in other parts of the economy such as massive improvements in agriculture, trade, and government policy. Yet, I don’t think that means we can’t talk about the Industrial Revolution.
Even if we accept that there is a lot of ambiguity about specifics, we might broadly think of the Industrial Revolution as what happened here12:
Like I said, that’s a lot of things! The 18th and 19th century saw improvements in agriculture, technology, trade, political policies etc. As the critique above pointed out, these may historically embedded changes that were dependent on prior developments in earlier time periods, but they were still large changes nonetheless.
And as much as the IR that I am describing was a collection of many things affecting each other in a network of causality, it’s also just one thing: the takeoff of sustained exponential economic growth. To that end, the latter broader understanding of the IR is what I mean when I say “Industrial Revolution” in the rest of this post. As to what caused what, I’m going to remain generally agnostic, as that will vary from theory to theory that I’ll examine. So, to put the puzzle yet another way: did Middle Earth have the right conditions to achieve the takeoff of sustained economic growth (sufficient for Gandalf to own a technical)?
III. Raw Materials
You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal."
- Gandalf the Grey
The first place a defender of Tolkien is likely to protest his innocence of the crime of unrealistic worldbuilding is to say that Middle Earth simply didn’t have the right raw materials and resources to experience an Industrial Revolution.
As theories of the industrial revolution go, this is pretty basic. The argument, put simpliciter, is that certain materials and resources are necessary for industrialization and without them historical industrialization couldn’t have happened.
The best case for a single necessary material is probably coal. Coal is incredibly energy dense at 24 megajoules per Kg, making it extraordinarily useful for powering industrial machines.13 Indeed, basically all steam engine models used it for power. That coal is a necessary condition for industrialization is, as I understand it, one of Kenneth Pomeranz’s main claims in The Great Divergence14. A slightly more recent version of the claim is made by E.A. Wrigley15:
The possibility of bringing about an industrial revolution depended on gaining access to a different source of energy. Mining coal provided the solution to this problem. It enabled societies to escape from what Jevons termed ‘the laborious poverty of early times’.
So, have we solved why Middle Earth hasn’t industrialized? Is it just that they don’t have coal? Well, there are a couple issues.
First, Middle Earth actually has coal! Something I was kinda surprised to discover. As mentioned in the quote introing this section, the Dwarves are explicitly described as mining coal in The Hobbit. There’s no direct evidence that anyone else mines it, but I think it can probably be inferred that other races and kingdoms that have mines or quarries have come across it (Orcs, Hobbits, Humans, and some elf clans). Furthermore, we know that at least some Dwarves are forced to engage in trade with other places (because they don’t produce their own food) and so other races probably could get their hands on coal indirectly16.
The existence of coal raises a a secondary question. Coal, as you know, is the compacted flesh of ancient entities from days long gone by unearthed to power dark and terrible rituals but at unimaginable and unforeseen cost. Or, to put it another way, coal is the product of prehistoric biomass used to power steam engines that did a bit of an oopsie on the climate.17
But uh, prehistoric biomass, raises a bit of an issue. We have the entire history of Middle Earth written down and I… didn’t notice the part where Tolkien mentioned dinosaurs?18 More problematically, coal apparently takes millions of years to form, which is, roughly 900,000 years longer than Middle Earth has been around?19
I think there are a few ways to square this circle. First, coal exists, but that doesn’t mean coal comes into being the same way in Middle Earth. For all we know, coal pops into existence whenever a Balrog dies. There is no indication that the same process applies. Second, maybe dinosaurs (and therefore likely prehistoric plants) did exist?
Tolkien tells us of the mounts of the Nazgul that:
The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, fingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed. Down, down it came, and then, folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled upon the body of Snowmane, digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck.
The Lord of the Rings - Book V, Chapter 6 - "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
He confirmed in a later letter that:
“Pterodactyl. Yes and no. I did not intend the steed of the Witch-King to be what is now called a 'pterodactyl', and often is drawn (with rather less shadowy evidence than lies behind many monsters of the new and fascinating semi-scientific mythology of the 'Prehistoric'). But obviously it is pterodactylic and owes much to the new mythology, and its description even provides a sort of way in which it could be a last survivor of older geological eras.”
(The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: Letter 211 To Rhona Beare.)
So, maybe Middle earth did actually have a prehistoric era in which peet could have slowly condensed and formed into coal.20
Finally, I think we may have recourse to simply stipulate that Middle Earth has coal and any other natural resource that the actual industrial revolution had. Middle Earth is framed, explicitly, as an account of the history of our world. That is, the world of the Lord of the Rings is one and the same as our world, just at a very different point in its history. Thus, while Middle Earth may possess resources that we do not, such as Mithril, unless the resources of our world were deposited later, they must have been available to the people of Middle Earth.
So, Middle Earth had coal, but did it need coal? I don’t think so. Remember, the reason we said coal was a necessary condition for industrialization was that it could be considered a unique source of energy that could power machines that, under some interpretations, were the beginning of the IR. This can be decomposed into two questions. First, is coal necessary as an energy source for the set of machines we are interested in? Second, is that set of machines necessary for the industrial revolution?
Clarks and Jack (2007) look at both of these questions around coal and the IR and make several findings that are relevant to us.21 First, they look at the historical evidence and suggest that the main area where the IR gave us productivity gains was actually in textile production, which has relatively low energy costs. That is, while the steam engine, the coal guzzling invention that it was, was the poster child of the industrial revolution, the action, at least early on, was in the Spinning Jenny:
The Spinning Jenny and its ilk were machines that greatly enhanced the productivity of laborers making fabrics and clothing, by augmenting the laborers ability to manipulate fabrics. These were complicated machines no doubt, but not machines that relied a great deal on external energy as an input. These machines, according to the data set Clark and Jacks use, were actually what drove a lot of the initial economic change in Britain in the early years of the IR. So, at least initially, coal may not have been required to get the IR off of the ground.22
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The second finding that Clark and Jacks make that I think is relevant is the relative cost of coal compared to other sources of energy. While coal was certainly cheaper and easier than burning wood or constructing a water wheel, the latter were available options. Clark and Jacks put their estimate of what the costs of using this more inefficient energy sources would have been to Britain at around 6% of GDP. Expensive to switch? Absolutely. Impossible? I don’t think so. Therefore, even if you don’t buy any of my explanation about coal being present in Middle Earth, it may not have been necessary.
Lastly, this idea of using non-coal based sources of course raises further questions about the availability of wood supplies and sources of water power in Middle Earth(some of which I address in the next section), but I think the general point has been made that there doesn’t seem to be any resource that is A. Totally unavailable on Middle Earth and B. An absolutely necessary component for historical industrialization. So, the reason Middle Earth hasn’t industrialized is not because some resource is entirely missing.
IV. Factor Prices
After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as best we could up and down the lands, often enough sinking as low as blacksmith-work or even coalmining. But we have never forgotten our stolen treasure. And even now, when I will allow we have a good bit laid by and are not so badly off…we still mean to get it back, and to bring our curses home to Smaug if we can.
- King Under The Mountain, Thorin II “Oakenshield”
The natural next theory to examine after looking at binary Yes/No facts about the presence of resources is a theory about the relative abundance and price of resources. Specifically, I think it’s worth examining Robert Allen’s “Relative Factor Prices” explanation of the Industrial Revolution.23
To do that, we need to talk about something which I have, perhaps surprisingly, not really discussed thus far: invention. It’s common, at least when thinking historically, to run together the ideas of science (discovering some facts about the world) and the ideas of invention (creating a novel machine or device). They seem to conjure up the same image of a lone genius toiling away to advance the frontier of human knowledge and achievement. There is some evidence that we should think this conflation is erroneous (More to come on the contribution of science to the IR in the next post).
First of all, the technological wonders of the industrial revolution, the Spinning Jenny, the Steam Engine, etc, did obviously require knowledge of certain facts about the physical world (for instance, certain facts about the nature of a vacuum are necessary for a steam engine), but it wasn’t like the factor preventing their invention was lack of knowledge. Indeed, while these machines came around in the late 18th to early 19th century, Allen argues that the scientific discoveries necessary for their creation were made before 1700.24 That is, the discovery of facts necessary for inventing machinery and the actual invention of that machinery were largely separate distinct events.
So, if it’s not just knowledge of the facts that underpin the machine, what else is necessary for invention? Under Allen’s explanation: profit motive. Inventions such as the steam engine took teams of people years to complete, they weren’t the sort of thing that could be made by a hobbyist in their backyard.25 To make a modern comparison, we don’t think of the newest iphone as the sort of thing that could be made and brought to market by a lone individual. Similarly, the inventions of the Industrial Revolution were worked on by teams of inventors and financiers mainly out of the hope of profit. Both Newcomen and Watt, the inventors of both major types of steam engine, were motivated explicitly by profit and received venture capital investment in exchange for future profits.26 These R&D processes took years and required the persistent hope of economic returns at the end.
So, what determines if investment in an invention will be profitable: factor prices.
Think of it like this. For any given amount of textiles, I could either employ a lot of labor to make them or I could invest capital into making a machine that will allow me to replace a fair amount of that labor with the use of coal and machines. Whether that is worth it or not depends mostly on two things: the price of coal and the price of labor.
That coal’s price was low and labor's price was high in Britain is basically Allen’s account of why the IR happened there and not anywhere else.27
Given the data above: a plausible explanation about why Britain was willing to spend the time and money inventing machines seems to emerge. But, before we get to evaluating whether Middle Earth has the right factor prices for industrialization, it’s asking the other question I suggested was relevant: is this actually a good theory of why the industrial revolution happened?
I dunno, maybe?
There are a couple of ways that we can push back on the “high wage, low coal cost” thesis. First, there’s some dispute as to whether British laborers were actually earning higher wages than their continental equivalent.28 29 I’m not really equipped to weigh in on the detailed parsing of historical documents going on here, some I’m just going to leave it at “Smart people disagree”.
A second way to push back is to point out that the cost of paying a workers daily wage is not the same thing as the cost of labor. What do I mean by this? Well, British wages may have reflected the fact that the average worker in Britain was more productive than a worker on the continent. So, it’s not that labor thought of as something like dollar price to have something done was more expensive, it’s more like, fewer people needed to be hired to do the same work, so each of them earned more.
A point like this is made by Kelly, Moky, and O’Grada (2014) who look at various sources of contemporaneous commentary on the relative efficacy of British and French labor.30 French labor is consistently described as being lower quality and less effective than British labor, providing some evidence for the idea that higher wages reflected higher efficiency levels. They also find some empirical evidence of this by looking at heights of workers (as height is correlated with worker efficiency) and finding that the British were taller on average than French workers.31
So, factor prices don’t seem to be a perfect explanation. That said, I don’t think the evidence against it definitively busts the idea, so it’s worth taking a look at how Middle Earth stacks up.
To recap, the incentive to industrialize (under Allen’s theory) is determined by the following equation.
As this ratio goes down, it becomes less and less profitable to invent industrial machines.
IV.A Labor Supply of Middle Earth
First, let’s try and estimate the labor supply of Middle Earth. In other words, we need to get at least a rough estimate of the population.32
Now, as he is want to do, Tolkien says very little about this. So, we need to try and estimate it somehow. Importantly, I don’t think the normal methodology people seem to use to estimate fantastical population will work here. Often times what I see people do is grab a similar seeming historical example where we have the population numbers and then suggest that because they share some underlying characteristics (usually geographically), the population will be at least around the same magnitude. This doesn’t really work as an approach in this instance. We are explicitly trying to compare Middle Earth to our world, if we just substitute in real world values of course we are going to conclude that they are the same!
I don’t think we are at an absolute dead end here. Instead, what we need to do is find some general rule about the relationship of a population to some other variable of interest that Tolkien does mention and work backwards. An interesting attempt at this sort of manuever has been made using the size of armies. There is (apparently, this isn’t really my area at all) a pretty solid and consistent relationship between the size of armies and the size of the population that fields them in feudal settings. The logic operating here is that for each and every troop in the field, a certain amount of additional members of support are necessary. Therefore, the ratio of troops/civilians seemed to stay relatively constant across population size.
Gondor: 1.6-2.6 million
The Shire: 60,000-140,000
For comparison, the population of Britain was about 6.5 million in 1680, just before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.35 Now obviously these locations are all of different geographic size, so we need to convert our numbers into people/miles. This gives us the following (Using the middle value of the ranges)36:
England in 1680: ~129 people per square mile
Rohan: ~12 people per square mile
Gondor: ~24 people per square mile
The Shire: ~6 people per square mile.
That’s much lower! This suggests that, at least prima facie, labor should be much more expensive in Middle Earth.
IV.B Labor Productivity
Now, if we remember back to one of the objections to the factor-price explanation, the cost of labor isn’t just determined by the quantity of the population, but is also set by the quality of the population. This is where we run into problems with a real lack of evidence. I tried to make a similar analysis to what Kelly, Mokyr, and O’Grada did regarding height information, but I think this runs into issues.
As I see it there are really two problems preventing us from drawing conclusions about the relationship of height to productivity when looking at Middle Earth. First, almost every single person whose height we are told in Middle Earth is of wealthy birth. This significantly skews our sample as nobility and high born are going to have access to many more calories at an early age, allowing for development and growth rather than stunting. And this leads into our second problem, which is that the relationship between height and labor productivity is complicated and will vary across data sets.
I think the easiest way to explain this point is to really dig into what height is telling us about labor productivity. Simplifying somewhat, height of a peasant can tell us two things about how productive their labor was: physically how productive they were and mentally how productive they were. The first, physical difference, is pretty self explanatory. The taller and bigger you are, the better you are going to be at moving stuff around. Graphically, something like this:
The second relationship is a little more complicated. Height is, in part, determined by whether you were developmentally stunted. That is, if you received enough calories as a child. Stunting also has a mental component, where malnourishment results in lower cognitive ability. Importantly, malnourishment as a determinant of height and cognitive ability is bounded. That is, receiving fewer calories as a child will decrease your height and cognitive ability, but increasing them past what is nutritionally needed will not increase your intelligence or height. This means that past a certain threshold, height is not indicative of cognitive ability.
In other words, low height levels had an additional factor affecting labor productivity that high height levels did not. Isolating just the mental component, we might think it looks something like this graphically:
If we combine these two together, we get a relationship between height and productivity like this:
Okay, so what’s the problem here? Think of it like this, that one peasant was much taller than another was probably a fairly good indicator of their being higher productivity, it was picking up on both physical and mental differences. That someone in Denmark (the tallest country in the world) is taller than someone in Japan (a relatively short country where that likely isn’t from malnutrition) is probably not as good a predictor of productivity, it might tell us that the Dane will be slightly more physically productive but it certainly isn’t telling us anything about mental ability or whether the Japanese person was malnourished. The problem here is that we are picking from two different populations with two different natural height rates (i.e. assuming perfect nutrition in both cases, they would have had different levels of height anyway). Fundamentally, we are dealing with two different relationships between height and productivity. Think of this as the X nutrition point in the height graph being located in a different spot for the different populations. That a hobbit is at a height that suggests severe malnutrition for a human gives us no information about whether they were malnourished
So, we can’t just use variation from modern day height to gauge malnutrition, because we don’t know which heights give us evidence of malnutrition. The labor force is composed of a variety of species each with its own physical traits and baselines that we would need to adjust for, and for which we have no data. Okay, you say, but couldn’t we just do an apples to apples comparison of humans to humans and just drop the dwarves and elves and whatnot? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. The problem here is that I don’t think Tolkien’s humans are biologically the same as us. Here are some of the heights we get for humans in the LOTR (again, acknowledging these are unrepresentative nobles).37
Aragorn: 6 foot 6 inches
Boromir: 6 foot 6 inches
Faramir: Tall, probably the same as Boromir
They are all freakishly tall! Why is this? Partly perhaps because we are selecting on the dependent variables and freakishly tall people are more want to become combat-focused adventurers. Partly, because a lot of these people aren’t actually 100% “Human”. That is, a lot of them are partially descended from elves.38 The introduction of possible elf “genes” into the population of humans (Genes, I guess, is the right way of putting it? Do elves have genes? Do they have DNA?) into our analysis means that we don’t know how many calories are needed to avoid malnuitrition, making it near impossible to estimate height’s relationship with productivity.
If I had to guess, and I mean this is an absolute spitball, the average worker in Middle Earth is slightly more productive than a historical British Peasant? I don’t really have any proof of this, but it just sort of intuitively feels correct? Like, I have a hard time imagine the introduction of elven heritage makes you worse at being a farmer and I think there’s a non-zero chance it makes you better at least if these heights are anything to go by.
IV.C Coal Prices
Finally, how do coal prices compare to industrializing Britain? Well, it’s hard to know for certain, but I think they were likely higher.
Coal isn’t mentioned a great deal in the books, mostly as backstory for the dwarves in The Hobbit or as a description e.g. “Coal-black eyes”. I think we can infer a few things about coal production. One, Dwarves seem to be highly valued for their ability to produce coal. If there is a Dwarven monopoly on coal mining this is probably going to raise prices as A. they will be able to upcharge customers and B. They seem to really detest coal mining, so probably would need high pay to do so.
However, I don’t want to treat the fact that only Dwarves are mentioned as mining coal as definitive evidence of coals scarcity in Middle Earth, after all, absence of evidence =/= evidence of absence.
So, what other means do we have to estimate the availability of coal in Middle Earth? Well, it turns out Tolkien made a fair amount of illustrations of Middle Earth39
Now, if you look at the above picture, do you see anything missing?
Chimneys. I went through every sketch of his I could find and this is one of the only of Tolkien’s sketches with chimneys on the buildings, and they are still relatively infrequent. Importantly, I think they are also the wrong type of chimney.
When London made the switch from using wood to using coal for indoor heating, this required the development of a different type of chimney or coal-smoke would fill the home. As Allen (2009) puts it40:
An enclosed fire place or metal chamber was necessary to confine the coal for high temperature combustion. The coal had to sit on a grate so a draft could pass through. A tall, narrow chimney (rather than the wide chimney used with wood fires) was needed to induce a draft through the burning coal.
These do not look like narrow chimneys to me. I think both the relative infrequency of chimneys and the fact that the ones we do see are more broad and square rather than tapered in is indicative of lower rates of coal usage for heating in Middle Earth. In contrast, in London before the IR the use of coal as a heat source was ubiquitous as a function of it’s widespread availability and low cost.41
Thus, on the basis of some Pepe Silvia-level staring at sketches of houses, I’m going to rule the prevalence of coal in Middle Earth as likely lower than that of 17th century England.
What about alternative energy sources? Maybe Middle Earth had very cheap water power or wood supply? I couldn’t find any great evidence regarding the number of rivers, so I’m going to assume that remains roughly equivalent. As for wood, we, uh, pretty explicitly get evidence that if you start chopping down tree’s that’s going to end fairly poorly for you:
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door; For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars – we go to war!
To land of gloom with tramp of doom, with roll of drum, wecome, we come;
- The Ents, shortly before ruining Saruman’s day
So, I’m going to suggest that wood is looking even worse than coal as an industrial fuel source.
So, where does that put the potential profitability of industrialization in Middle Earth relative to our world? It’s ambiguous, without some estimate of the effect size, we can’t know if the lower (and therefore more expensive) supply of labor is outweighed by the much higher price of coal. Additionally, it’s hard to know how much more productive elf blood would have made laborers. In general, I would guess that the coal side of things outweighs the more expensive labor (partly because I imagine labor markets aren’t that well functioning in Middle Earth), but I don’t want to make a definitive statement.
V. Conclusion of Part I
So, we’ve looked at the availability of various resources in Middle Earth and found that Middle Earth definitely had at least some of the things that we think are necessary, but that it’s ambiguous if it had the right arrangement of prices to make industrialization profitable. Overall, I’m going to call this one a draw between me and Tolkien. After all, I haven’t proven he is bad at worldbuilding, but it’s not like he’s proven he’s good at it. So who can really say which view is right.
Make sure to tune in next time where I take a swing at Tolkien over science and human capital in Middle Earth by asking the question: Hobbits, do they know things? What do they know? Let’s find out.
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J R R Tolkien. Fellowship of the Ring. Harpercollins Publishers Limited, 2015.
“They knew him by sight, though he only appeared in Hobbiton occasionally and never stopped long; but neither they nor any but the oldest of their elders had seen one of his firework displays – they now belonged to a legendary past.”
Bruland, Kristine. “Industrialisation and Technological Change.” In The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, edited by Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson, 1st ed., 117–46. Cambridge University Press, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521820363.006.
Mokyr, Joel. “Accounting for the Industrial Revolution.” In The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, edited by Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson, 1st ed., 1–27. Cambridge University Press, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521820363.002.
Fouquet, Roger, and Stephen Broadberry. “Seven Centuries of European Economic Growth and Decline.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 29, no. 4 (2015): 227–44.
Crafts, N. F. R., and C. K. Harley. “Output Growth and the British Industrial Revolution: A Restatement of the Crafts-Harley View.” The Economic History Review 45, no. 4 (November 1992): 703. https://doi.org/10.2307/2597415.
I haven’t actually been able to get my hands on this as my school’s library doesn’t have a digitized copy and a certain, shall we say, biblically-themed library website doesn’t have a working pdf either. If you have a pdf and would be willing to share, that would be appreciated.
Wrigley, E. A. The Path to Sustained Growth: England’s Transition from an Organic Economy to an Industrial Revolution. 1st ed. Cambridge University Press, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316488256.
The Peoples of Middle-earth. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print. Birzer, Bradley J.
“There dealings between Men and the Longbeards must soon have begun. For the Longbeards, though the proudest of the seven kindreds, were also the wisest and the most farseeing. Men held them in awe and were eager to learn from them; and the Longbeards were very willing to use Men for their own purposes. Thus there grew up in those regions the economy, later characteristic of the dealings of Dwarves and Men (including Hobbits): Men became the chief providers of food, as herdsmen, shepherds, and land-tillers, which the Dwarves exchanged for work as builders, roadmakers, miners, and the makers of things of craft, from useful tools to weapons and arms and many other things of great cost and skill.”
Yes, strictly speaking dinosaurs aren’t needed for coal as coal mostly is made of plant biomass, you fun ruining hack of a pedant.
I swear to god, if even one of you fools “Um, Actually’s…” me about pterodactyls not technically being dinosaurs.
Clark, G., and D. Jacks. “Coal and the Industrial Revolution, 1700-1869.” European Review of Economic History 11, no. 1 (April 1, 2007): 39–72. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1361491606001870.
I’m going to reserve judgment on whether the productivity gains from textile mechanization would have lead to exponential growth absent coal totally. I’m just trying to make the more minor point that the initial gains in the IR were not coal dependent.
Allen, Robert C. “The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective,” n.d., 345.
Ibid. Pg. 6
Ibid. Pg. 161
Ibid. Pg. 167
Ibid. Pg. 139-40
Stephenson, Judy Z. “Mistaken Wages: The Cost of Labour in the Early Modern English Economy, a Reply to Robert C. Allen.” The Economic History Review 72, no. 2 (May 2019): 755–69. https://doi.org/10.1111/ehr.12780.
Humphries, Jane, and Jacob Weisdorf. “Unreal Wages? Real Income and Economic Growth in England, 1260–1850.” The Economic Journal 129, no. 623 (October 1, 2019): 2867–87. https://doi.org/10.1093/ej/uez017.
Kelly, Morgan, Joel Mokyr, and Cormac Ó Gráda. “Precocious Albion: A New Interpretation of the British Industrial Revolution.” Annual Review of Economics 6, no. 1 (August 1, 2014): 363–89. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-economics-080213-041042.
I’m not going to look at Kelly, Mokyr, and O’Grada’s 2020 paper here as I’m saving it for the discussion of Human Capital in Middle Earth
Technically, labor supply is determined by more than population, but I think we can conflate the two for our purposes.
Wrigley, E. A. “British Population during the ‘Long’ Eighteenth Century, 1680–1840.” In The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, edited by Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson, 1st ed., 57–95. Cambridge University Press, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521820363.004.
I used the following estimates of land area for my calculations: https://imgur.com/gallery/jZVlfCS
Hammond, W. G., Scull, C., & R., T. J. R. (1998). J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and illustrator. HarperCollins.
Allen, Robert C. “The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective,” 2009. Pg. 91
Ibid. Pg. 84