Stepping into the same river twice

You can’t. By the time you take a second step, it’s not the same river. That is, unless you’re very quick indeed. Within a few years of the industrial revolution — at around 1780 — America and four or five countries of Northern Europe had copied our cotton-spinning factories and, like us, were selling the yarn to hand-loom weavers at home and abroad.

By the time other counties were copying our cotton spinning factories — or trying to — the original six countries had enormously enlarged their own production of very much cheaper yarn and effectively prevented them from finding foreign markets of their own to export to. Not only that, but the original six countries were now building cotton-weaving factories able to make cloth cheaper than other countries could make it on their hand-looms.

By the time the other countries were building cotton-weaving factories — or trying to — the original six were building steam-engines to build deep mines, and using the coal energy to make steel, and then railways — and so on and so on. Today, whenever other countries try and step into the river they find it has changed into a cataract.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for other countries to catch up, particularly as, today, the cataract consists of the by-products of scientific research institutions which cannot be copied but only built up as sophisticated cultures which take decades, if not generations, to evolve.

2 thoughts on “Stepping into the same river twice

  1. Given what we’ve seen South Korea do in the past two decades, China the past three decades, Japan the past 5 decades… I’d say that in some businesses being a copy cat can lead to a catch up much more quickly now than a century ago. For some periods, the copy cats can exceed the quality and value of the copied. Think of Japanese and Korean cars.

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