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Engels' pause: Technical change, capital accumulation, and inequality in the british industrial revolution

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  • Allen, Robert C.

Abstract

The paper reviews the macroeconomic data describing the British economy from 1760 to 1913 and shows that it passed through a two stage evolution of inequality. In the first half of the 19th century, the real wage stagnated while output per worker expanded. The profit rate doubled and the share of profits in national income expanded at the expense of labour and land. After the middle of the 19th century, real wages began to grow in line with productivity, and the profit rate and factor shares stabilized. An integrated model of growth and distribution is developed to explain these trends. The model includes an aggregate production function that explains the distribution of income, while a savings function in which savings depended on property income governs accumulation. Simulations with the model show that technical progress was the prime mover behind the industrial revolution. Capital accumulation was a necessary complement. The surge in inequality was intrinsic to the growth process: technical change increased the demand for capital and raised the profit rate and capital's share. The rise in profits, in turn, sustained the industrial revolution by financing the necessary capital accumulation. After the middle of the 19th century, accumulation had caught up with the requirements of technology and wages rose in line with productivity.

Suggested Citation

  • Allen, Robert C., 2009. "Engels' pause: Technical change, capital accumulation, and inequality in the british industrial revolution," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 418-435, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:46:y:2009:i:4:p:418-435
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