Learning by Doing, Knowledge Spillovers, and Technological and Organizational Change in High-Altitude Mountaineering
We present an analysis of microlevel data from mountaineering on the 14 peaks over 8,000 m in height during the period 1895-1998. Prior to 1950, no expedition was successful in making an ascent and almost half of expeditions experienced a death, frostbite, or altitude sickness. By the 1990s, however, over half of the expeditions would successfully make an ascent and only about one in seven would experience an adverse outcome. Our objective is to distinguish between the effects of learning by doing and knowledge spillovers versus the effects of changes in technology or economic organization in explaining these results. As we can identify each climber by name and nationality, as well as each expedition team's methods and outcomes, we are able to disentangle the effects of learning at the individual, national, and international levels from effects due to improvements in climbing technology or changes in organizational methods and objectives. We find evidence that both individual learning by doing and learning through knowledge spillovers have contributed to the observed increase in ascent rates and to the decrease in death, frostbite, and altitude sickness rates.
Volume (Year): 11 (2010)
Issue (Month): 5 (October)
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