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Human capital, knowledge and economic development: evidence from the British Industrial Revolution, 1750–1930

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  • B. Zorina Khan

    (Bowdoin College
    NBER)

Abstract

Endogenous growth models raise fundamental questions about the nature of human creativity, and the sorts of resources, skills, and knowledge inputs that shift the frontier of technology and production possibilities. Many argue that the experience of early British industrialization supports the thesis that economic advances depend on specialized scientific training, the acquisition of costly human capital, and the role of elites. This paper examines the contributions of different types of knowledge to industrialization, by assessing the backgrounds, education and inventive activity of major contributors to technological advances in Britain during the crucial period between 1750 and 1930. The results indicate that scientists, engineers or technicians were not well-represented among the cadre of important British inventors, and their contributions remained unspecialized until very late in the nineteenth century. The informal institution of apprenticeship and learning on the job provided effective means to enable productivity and innovation. For developing countries today, the implications are that costly investments in specialized human capital resources might be less important than incentives for creativity, flexibility, and the ability to make incremental adjustments that can transform existing technologies into inventions and innovations that are appropriate for prevailing domestic conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Zorina Khan, 2018. "Human capital, knowledge and economic development: evidence from the British Industrial Revolution, 1750–1930," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 12(2), pages 313-341, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:cliomt:v:12:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11698-017-0163-z
    DOI: 10.1007/s11698-017-0163-z
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    Cited by:

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    2. Wang, Shuhong & Tian, Wenqian & Lu, Binbin, 2023. "Impact of capital investment and industrial structure optimization from the perspective of "resource curse": Evidence from developing countries," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
    3. Arjun K. & Sanjay Kumar & A. Sankaran & Mousumi Das, 2021. "Open Door System and Endogenous Growth in Indian Economy: An Empirical Analysis on the Role of Human Capital and R&D in Explaining Industrial Productivity," Management and Labour Studies, XLRI Jamshedpur, School of Business Management & Human Resources, vol. 46(1), pages 24-37, February.
    4. Billington, Stephen D., 2021. "What explains patenting behaviour during Britain’s Industrial Revolution?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).
    5. Billington, Stephen D., 2018. "Patent costs and the value of inventions: Explaining patenting behaviour between England, Ireland and Scotland, 1617-1852," QUCEH Working Paper Series 2018-10, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.
    6. Billington, Stephen D. & Hanna, Alan J., 2018. "That's classified! Inventing a new patent taxonomy," QUCEH Working Paper Series 2018-06, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.
    7. Adrien Montalbo, 2019. "Education and economic development. The influence of primary schooling on municipalities in nineteenth-century France," Working Papers halshs-02286126, HAL.
    8. Adrien Montalbo, 2020. "Education supply and economic growth in nineteenth-century France," Working Papers halshs-02482643, HAL.
    9. Adrien Montalbo, 2020. "Education supply and economic growth in nineteenth-century France," PSE Working Papers halshs-02482643, HAL.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Technological change; Inventors; Human capital; Industrialization; Patents; Inventions;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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