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The spinning jenny and the guillotine: technology diffusion at the time of revolutions


  • Ugo M. Gragnolat

    () (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Piazza Martiri della libertá 33, 56127, Pisa, Italy)

  • Daniele Moschella

    () (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Piazza Martiri della libertá 33, 56127, Pisa, Italy)

  • Emanuele Pugliese

    () (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Piazza Martiri della libertá 33, 56127, Pisa, Italy)


Scale economies and demand, combined with the relative prices of input factors, can provide an economic explanation to the location and timing of the Industrial Revolution. Its labor-saving innovations were profitable only above a minimum output threshold, which allowed to cover the upfront cost of capital. In turn, the possibility to exceed such threshold depended on consumer demand, which was affected by the level and by the distribution of real income. The case of the spinning jenny and the cotton industry in England and France serves as a valuable case study to show how scale and demand considerations might have mattered even at the eve of the Industrial Revolution, thus implying also a potentially important role for income distribution.

Suggested Citation

  • Ugo M. Gragnolat & Daniele Moschella & Emanuele Pugliese, 2014. "The spinning jenny and the guillotine: technology diffusion at the time of revolutions," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 8(1), pages 5-26, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:8:y:2014:i:1:p:5-26

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    Cited by:

    1. Julio Martínez-Galarraga & Marc Prat, 2014. "Wages and prices in early Catalan industrialisation," UB Economics Working Papers 2014/305, Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat d'Economia i Empresa, UB Economics.

    More about this item


    Industrial Revolution; Income distribution; Scale economies; Choice of technique;

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology


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