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Discussion Paper Details

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Title: Rage Against the Machines: Labour-Saving Technology and Unrest in England, 1830-32

Author(s): Bruno Caprettini and Hans-Joachim Voth

Publication Date: January 2017

Keyword(s): Labor-saving technology; social instability; riots; welfare support; agricultural technology; factor prices and technological change.

Programme Area(s): Development Economics, Economic History and Labour Economics

Abstract: Can new technology cause social instability and unrest? We examine the ‘Captain Swing’ riots in 1830s England. Newly-collected data on threshing machine adoption shows that new technology was associated with both higher unemployment and more riots. We instrument technology adoption with access to water power and wheat suitability: IV estimates suggest that threshing machines were an important cause of unrest. Where vibrant labor markets softened the blow of new technology, there was less rioting. In the aftermath of the riots, technology adoption and patenting rates slowed down in areas close to Swing riots in 1830-32.

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Bibliographic Reference

Caprettini, B and Voth, H. 2017. 'Rage Against the Machines: Labour-Saving Technology and Unrest in England, 1830-32'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research. https://www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11800