DP11800 Rage Against the Machines: Labour-Saving Technology and Unrest in England, 1830-32

Author(s): Bruno Caprettini, Hans-Joachim Voth
Publication Date: January 2017
Date Revised: June 2018
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: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=11800

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.