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Technology and the great divergence: Global economic development since 1820

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  • Allen, Robert C.

Abstract

The paper measures productivity growth in seventeen countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. GDP per worker and capital per worker in 1985 US dollars were estimated for 1820, 1850, 1880, 1913, and 1939 by using historical national accounts to back cast Penn World Table data for 1965 and 1990. Frontier and econometric production functions are used to measure neutral technical change and local technical change. The latter includes concurrent increases in capital per worker and output per worker beyond the highest values achieved. These increases were pioneered by the rich countries of the day. An increase in the capital-labor ratio was usually followed by a half century in which rich countries raised output per worker at that higher ratio. Then the rich countries moved on to a higher capital-ratio, and technical progress ceased at the lower ratio they abandoned. Most of the benefits of technical progress accrued to the rich countries that pioneered it. It is remarkable that countries in 1990 with low capital labor ratios achieved an output per worker that was no higher than countries with the same capital labor ratio in 1820. In the course of the last two hundred years, the rich countries created the production function of the world that defines the growth possibilities of poor countries today.

Suggested Citation

  • Allen, Robert C., 2012. "Technology and the great divergence: Global economic development since 1820," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 1-16.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:49:y:2012:i:1:p:1-16
    DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2011.09.002
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Carlin, Wendy & Schaffer, Mark & Seabright, Paul, 2013. "Soviet power plus electrification: What is the long-run legacy of communism?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 116-147.
    2. Walheer, Barnabé, 2016. "Growth and convergence of the OECD countries: A multi-sector production-frontier approach," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 252(2), pages 665-675.
    3. Krüger, Jens J., 2015. "Radar scanning the world production frontier," Darmstadt Discussion Papers in Economics 222, Darmstadt University of Technology, Department of Law and Economics.
    4. repec:kap:iecepo:v:15:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s10368-017-0373-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Baten, Jörg & Sohn, Kitae, 2014. "Impoverished, but Numerate? Early Numeracy in East Asia (1550–1800) and its Impact on 20th and 21st Century Economic Growth," CEPR Discussion Papers 9991, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Naude, Wim & Nagler, Paula, 2015. "Industrialisation, Innovation, Inclusion," MERIT Working Papers 043, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    7. Jens J. Krüger, 2016. "Radar scanning the world production frontier," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 46(1), pages 1-13, August.
    8. Broadberry, Stephen & Fukao, Kyoji & Zammit, Nick, 2015. "How Did Japan Catch-up On The West? A Sectoral Analysis Of Anglo-Japanese Productivity Differences, 1885-2000," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 231, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    9. repec:dgr:rugggd:gd-141 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Crafts, Nicholas & O’Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj, 2014. "Twentieth Century Growth*This research has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 249546.," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 6, pages 263-346 Elsevier.
    11. Barnabé Walheer, 2016. "Multi-Sector Nonparametric Production-Frontier Analysis of the Economic Growth and the Convergence of the European Countries," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(4), pages 498-524, October.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Technological change; Global history; Great divergence; Economic growth;

    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence

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