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Technological Revolutions and Economic Growth: The “Age of Steam” Reconsidered

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  • Carolina Castaldi
  • Alessandro Nuvolari

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to review the development of steam power technology in the light of the key ideas proposed in General Purpose Technology growth models. We intend to provide a critical evaluation of the interpretive power of such models, which are elaborated around three properties of technological revolutions namely, their technological dynamism, their pervasiveness and their capacity of inducing further innovations (technical and organizational) in the using sectors. Although intuitively appealing, these concepts ought to be more rigorously defined, especially in view of empirical applications of the models. Indeed, the case of the "age of steam" shows a technology that is surely pervasive, but it is characterized by uneven rates of technical advance across application sectors. We argue that GPT based growth models do not seem particularly well-equipped for taking into account the "local" aspect of the accumulation of technological knowledge.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy in its series LEM Papers Series with number 2004/11.

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Date of creation: 01 Jun 2004
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Handle: RePEc:ssa:lemwps:2004/11

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References

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  1. Nathan Rosenberg & Manuel Trajtenberg, 2001. "A General Purpose Technology at Work: The Corliss Steam Engine in the late 19th Century US," NBER Working Papers 8485, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Manuel Trajtenberg, 1995. "General Purpose Technologies "Engines of Growth?"," NBER Working Papers 4148, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Silverberg, Gerald, 2002. "The discrete charm of the bourgeoisie: quantum and continuous perspectives on innovation and growth," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(8-9), pages 1275-1289, December.
  4. Nuvolari, A., 2001. "Collective Invention during the British Industrial Revolution: The Case of the Cornish Pumping Engine," Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS) working paper series 01.04, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS).
  5. Nelson, Richard R, 1998. "The Agenda for Growth Theory: A Different Point of View," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(4), pages 497-520, July.
  6. Paul David & Gavin Wright, 1999. "Early Twentieth Century Productivity Growth Dynamics: An Inquiry into the Economic History of Our Ignorance," Economics Series Working Papers 1999-W33, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  7. G. Dosi & G. Fagiolo, 1997. "Exploring the Unknown on Entrepreneurship, Coordination and Innovation Driven Growth," Working Papers ir97077, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
  8. Harberger, Arnold C, 1998. "A Vision of the Growth Process," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 1-32, March.
  9. McCloskey, Donald N. & Sandberg, Lars G., 1971. "From damnation to redemption: Judgments on the late victorian entrepreneur," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 89-108.
  10. Bart Verspagen, 2004. "Structural Change and Technology. A Long View," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 55(6), pages 1099-1125.
  11. Nicholas Crafts, 2004. "Steam as a general purpose technology: A growth accounting perspective," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 338-351, 04.
  12. David, Paul A, 1990. "The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 355-61, May.
  13. Verspagen, B., 2002. "Structural Change and Technology. A Long View," Working Papers 02.13, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies.
  14. Carolina Castaldi & Giovanni Dosi, 2003. "The Grip of History and the Scope for Novelty: Some Results and Open Questions on Path Dependence in Economic Processes," LEM Papers Series 2003/02, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
  15. Nuvolari, A., 2004. "Collective invention during the British Industrial Revolution: the case of the Cornish pumping engine," Working Papers 04.02, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies.
  16. Rosenberg, Nathan & Frischtak, Claudio R, 1984. "Technological Innovation and Long Waves," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(1), pages 7-24, March.
  17. Dosi, Giovanni, 1997. "Opportunities, Incentives and the Collective Patterns of Technological Change," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(444), pages 1530-47, September.
  18. Rosenberg, Nathan & Trajtenberg, Manuel, 2001. "A General Purpose Technology at Work: The Corliss Steam Engine in the Late 19th Century," CEPR Discussion Papers 3008, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  19. Crafts, N. F. R., 1995. "Exogenous or Endogenous Growth? The Industrial Revolution Reconsidered," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 55(04), pages 745-772, December.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Edquist, Harald & Henrekson, Magnus, 2004. "Technological Breakthroughs and Productivity Growth," Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 0562, Stockholm School of Economics, revised 04 Apr 2005.
  2. Garavaglia, C., 2004. "History friendly simulations for modelling industrial dynamics," Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS) working paper series 04.19, Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS).

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