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Racing to the TopHow Energy Fuels System Leadership in World Politics$
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William R. Thompson and Leila Zakhirova

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190699680

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190699680.001.0001

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The United States: Emulating and Surpassing Britain

The United States: Emulating and Surpassing Britain

(p.151) 8 The United States: Emulating and Surpassing Britain
Racing to the Top

William R. Thompson

Leila Zakhirova

Oxford University Press

In this chapter, we focus on the rise of the United States as a two-stage process. In the first stage the United States acquired dominance in mass-production industries that were contingent on not only technological innovation but also an unusually rich resource endowment and an equally distinctive domestic market. U.S. economic growth emulated Britain’s coal-centric trajectory and outdid it by the end of the nineteenth century. As electricity and petroleum began to be utilized in the latter part of the nineteenth century, they reshaped the nature of American industry, heating, and transportation, pushing the nation ahead of the rest of the world. Technological innovation and power-driven machinery increasingly provided the intermittent stimuli needed for the United States to fully embrace carbon-based energy sources that initially were relatively inexpensive. At the same time the large domestic market made increases in the scale of production possible, and the nature of United States’ resource endowment ensured that raw materials were inexpensive. The combination of innovation, cheap raw materials (including energy), and a very large domestic market pushed the United States into an economic leadership position by World War I. But the second stage of the process, the rise to world technological leadership, did not begin until after World War II because it was based on science, and it took longer for the United States to acquire the lead in scientific research. Centrality in technology innovation, science, and world economic growth followed.

Keywords:   United States, resource endowment, domestic market size, technological innovation, scientific research, transportation networks, frontier exploitation, agrarian development, urbanization, energy transition

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