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How Much Did the Liberty Shipbuilders Learn? New Evidence for an Old Case Study

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  • Peter Thompson

Abstract

This paper offers some new estimates of the contribution of learning to the rapid increases in labor productivity observed in the construction of Liberty ships during World War II. The study exploits new data on physical capital investment and vessel quality constructed from contemporary records held at the National Archives. Estimates of the rate of learning are shown to be sensitive to the inclusion of the new capital data, and data on vessel quality provide evidence that part of the measured productivity increases were secured at the expense of quality.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Thompson, 2001. "How Much Did the Liberty Shipbuilders Learn? New Evidence for an Old Case Study," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(1), pages 103-137, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:109:y:2001:i:1:p:103-137
    DOI: 10.1086/318605
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. K. J. Arrow, 1971. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Palgrave Macmillan Books, in: F. H. Hahn (ed.), Readings in the Theory of Growth, chapter 11, pages 131-149, Palgrave Macmillan.
    2. A. M. Spence, 1981. "The Learning Curve and Competition," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(1), pages 49-70, Spring.
    3. Krugman, Paul, 1987. "The narrow moving band, the Dutch disease, and the competitive consequences of Mrs. Thatcher : Notes on trade in the presence of dynamic scale economies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1-2), pages 41-55, October.
    4. Linda Argote & Sara L. Beckman & Dennis Epple, 1990. "The Persistence and Transfer of Learning in Industrial Settings," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(2), pages 140-154, February.
    5. Dutton, John M. & Thomas, Annie & Butler, John E., 1984. "The History of Progress Functions as a Managerial Technology," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(2), pages 204-233, July.
    6. Boyan Jovanovic & Yaw Nyarko, 1995. "A Bayesian Learning Model Fitted to a Variety of Empirical Learning Curves," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 26(1995 Micr), pages 247-305.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N6 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights

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