Technological Lock-in vs Appropriate Technology in Early Twentieth Century
British Manufacturing

ABSTRACT: America’s lead over Europe in manufacturing productivity from the late nineteenth century onwards has often been contributed to differences in initial conditions, trapping Europe in a relatively declining, labor-intensive and low-productive technological path. In this paper, I reassess the productivity dynamics in British manufacturing on the basis of a novel analytical framework by Basu and Weil that emphasizes the role of learning and localized technical change and which predicts convergence in light of rapid capital deepening. By means of a data envelopment analysis, I measure the effects of capital accumulation, technological change, and efficiency change. I find evidence for considerable increased capital-intensity levels in British manufacturing during the early twentieth century, particularly in the ‘new’ industries which actively began to adopt modern techniques of mass-production and managerial control. My findings seriously challenge the traditional, declinist, technological lock-in hypothesis. Instead, the British shift toward mass-production techniques during the interwar period provides a strong case for a remarkable escape from the labor-intensive path which had held the British manufacturing sector in its grasp throughout the nineteenth century.

AUTHOR: Pieter Woltjer

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Available at: Groningen Growth and Development Centre
Journal: GGDC Research Memoranda, No. 141
DOI:
Get PDF:  “The Great Escape”

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MLA Woltjer, Pieter. “The Great Escape: Technological Lock-in vs Appropriate Technology in Early Twentieth Century British Manufacturing.” Groningen Growth and Development Centre Research Memorandum 141 (2013).
APA Woltjer, P. (2013) The Great Escape: Technological Lock-in vs Appropriate Technology in Early Twentieth Century British Manufacturing. Groningen Growth and Development Centre Research Memorandum, 141.
Chicago Woltjer, Pieter. “The Great Escape: Technological Lock-in vs Appropriate Technology in Early Twentieth Century British Manufacturing.” Groningen Growth and Development Centre Research Memorandum 141 (2013).
Harvard Woltjer, P., 2013. The Great Escape: Technological Lock-in vs Appropriate Technology in Early Twentieth Century British Manufacturing. Groningen Growth and Development Centre Research Memorandum, 141.
Vancouver Woltjer, P. The Great Escape: Technological Lock-in vs Appropriate Technology in Early Twentieth Century British Manufacturing. Groningen Growth and Development Centre Research Memorandum. 2013 Nov;141.

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