DP11800 Rage Against the Machines: Labor-Saving Technology and Unrest in Industrializing England

Author(s): Bruno Caprettini, Hans-Joachim Voth
Publication Date: January 2017
Date Revised: October 2019
Keyword(s): agricultural technology, factor prices and technological change, Labor-saving technology, riots, social instability, welfare support
JEL(s): J21, J43, N33, P16
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Development Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11800

Can new technology cause social instability and unrest? We examine the famous `Captain Swing' riots in 1830s England. Newly-collected data on threshing machine discusion shows that labor-saving technology was associated with more riots. We instrument technology adoption with the share of heavy soils in a parish: IV estimates show that threshing machines were an important cause of unrest. Where alternative employment opportunities softened the blow of new technology, there was less rioting. In areas affected by the Swing riots in 1830-32, technology adoption and patenting rates slowed down for decades thereafter.