The Industrial Revolution is widely recognized as one of the most important events in economic history. Yet by many measures, the significance of that transformation pales in comparison with the defining megatrend of our age: the advent of a new consuming class in emerging countries long relegated to the periphery of the global economy.
The two shifts bear comparison. The original Industrial Revolution, hatched in the mid-1700s, took two centuries to gain full force. Britain, the revolution’s birthplace, required 150 years to double its economic output per person; in the United States, locus of the revolution’s second stage, doubling GDP per capita took more than 50 years. A century later, when China and India industrialized, the two nations doubled their GDP per capita in 12 and 16 years, respectively. Moreover, Britain and the United States began industrialization with populations of about ten million, whereas China and India began their economic takeoffs with populations of roughly one billion. Thus the two leading emerging economies are experiencing roughly ten times the economic acceleration of the Industrial Revolution, on 100 times the scale—resulting in an economic force that is over 1,000 times as big.