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More Power to the People: Electricity Adoption, Technological Change and Social Conflict

Author

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  • Enflo, Kerstin
  • Karlsson, Tobias
  • Molinder, Jakob

Abstract

There is a wide-spread concern that technical change may spur social conflicts, especially if workers are replaced with machines. To empirically analyze whether job destruction drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual roll-out of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,487 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Proximity to large-scale water-powered electricity plants is used to instrument for electricity adoption. Our results confirm that the labor saving nature of electricity was followed by an increase of local conflicts in the form of strikes. But displaced workers were not likely to initiate conflicts. Instead, strikes were most common in sectors with employment growth. Similarly, we find that the strikes were of an offensive rather than a defensive nature. Thus, electrification did not result in rebellions driven by technological anxiety. It rather provided workers with a stronger bargaining position from which they could voice their claims through strikes.

Suggested Citation

  • Enflo, Kerstin & Karlsson, Tobias & Molinder, Jakob, 2019. "More Power to the People: Electricity Adoption, Technological Change and Social Conflict," CEPR Discussion Papers 13986, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:13986
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    Cited by:

    1. Eric Melander, 2020. "Transportation Technology, Individual Mobility and Social Mobilisation," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 471, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    electrification; infrastructure investments; Labor conflicts; labor demand; strikes; Technological change;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N14 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: 1913-
    • N34 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: 1913-
    • N74 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: 1913-
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology

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