The Industrial Revolution--Act II

Imagine Oliver Twist gazing into a factory window in one of Nairobi's back alleys today. He would fit right in. The Industrial Revolution that started in England in the late 18th century continues to chug along in the third world.

The first Industrial Revolution has two central images: Dickensian scenes of urban squalor--grim pictures of what happens when public services cannot keep pace with urban population explosions. Glittering displays of industrial wonders of the age, such as the Victorian ``Great Exhibition of all the Nations'' held in the Crystal Palace.

Today the third world is filled with similar scenes--from the shantytowns that surround Mexico City, to the street urchins in Sao Paulo, to the cardboard dwellings of Nairobi slums.

Yet tales of unlimited industrial promise also abound in the third world. Some praise China's ``economic miracle.'' Others applaud the success of the Newly Industrialized Countries of South-East Asia.

The lure of higher wages is drawing waves of rural workers to the supercities of the third world -- just as it drew workers to the manufacturing centers of 19th-century England. As World Bank officials note, this ``natural process of development'' has followed the same pattern for two centuries.

But there's a key difference.

Compare two 50-year periods. The English city of Manchester doubled its population between 1851 and 1901. Mexico City's population has swelled on a much larger scale: it was 3.1 million in 1950; the UN says 26.3 million people will live there by the year 2000 -- a leap of 850 percent.

Can budding third world industry surmount such extreme conditions?

The Monitor will examine that question in a series of monthly articles. This series will look at how the factors that made the first Industrial Revolution possible are now operating in the third world. The first story appears below.

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