Back in the 1790s being a hand loom weaver was an ancient, inherently inefficient yet freshly profitable craft in Great Britain. Mechanized thread spinning produced a lot of cheap thread, but fabric still had to be woven on hand looms. Weavers made out like, well, like late 20th century lawyers.
Easy money attracted new entrants to the craft and there were no accreditation barriers to entry. The trade grew from about 75,000 weavers in 1795 to about 200,000 in 1812 and on to 240,000 in 1820.
At the same time, the first power looms appeared. Hand loom weavers were no longer positioned in the middle of the only path between spools of thread and finished cloth. Once they appeared, power looms moved quickly to dominate the market – in just 17 years between 1813 and 1830 the number of power looms in operation jumped 40 times from 2,400 to 100,000.
With many more weavers and new forms of competition, hand loom wages fell to a fraction of what was earned in the 1790s, not even accounting for inflation. Factory owners made fortunes, consumers could buy cloth more cheaply, but the traditional hand loom weavers found themselves working harder and harder for less and less.
There were rear guard responses. The Luddites tried to block, or at least damage, the new power looms. Others called for government wage support for the weavers. Riots broke out in places such as Lancashire.
In the long run, it was to no avail. The government took a hands off approach, and by 1861 there were just 7,000 hand loom weavers left, versus 400,000 power looms.
Everyone one of those power looms had a person attached to it, perhaps a child, so in a sense it would have been true to argue that jobs in the weaving sector had been on a steady increase. They were different kinds of jobs from those enjoyed by the independent, profitable hand loom weavers in 1795, however.
Today, law is an ancient yet inherently inefficient industry.