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In the most literal sense, the Industrial Revolution was dirty business. Never before in our planet’s history had man done as much damage to the land, the air, and the waters as when we first acquired powered machines. In search of energy, forests were torn down, peat bogs were ripped up, and coal was extracted and burned in ways that we’d find repulsive today.
Though that point is often presented as an ipso facto condemnation of the Industrial Revolution, that’s not the only possible interpretation. Perhaps, as unhealthy and disgusting as that era was, the costs were worth the gains. The very same processes that polluted the Earth also brought goods and services to millions that, only years before, had been available only to the wealthy few (if at all).
Given that the Industrial Revolution began and grew in one of the freest societies to have graced the planet, we might conclude that the British understood the trade-offs and accepted them. Indeed, despite the the smog clouds and drudgery they offered, cities and industrial mills attracted people like never before, and apparently with good reason: despite all the shortcomings those places offered in terms of health and welfare, life expectancy and purchasing power soared. Simply put, the costs of breathing smog outside were worth the benefits of burning coal inside.