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The Wheels of Change: Human Capital, Millwrights, and Industrialization in Eighteenth-Century England

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  • Sarid, Assaf
  • Mokyr, Joel
  • van der Beek, Karine

Abstract

Measures of human capital correlate strongly with technological change and economic growth across regions. However, the endogeneity of these measures complicated this interpretation. This paper aims to identify the causal effect of human capital in the context of Britain's industrialization in the eighteenth century, by uncovering the geographical origins of its highly skilled mechanical labor. We achieve this by exploiting the persistent effect of the spatial location of early medieval watermills across England (as registered in Domesday Book in 1086) on the spatial distribution of a specific group of mechanical workmen known as wrights, who specialized in building watermills, and using the exogenous source of cross-district variation in geographical suitability for the construction of watermills in the early medieval period, to instrument for the availability of wrights in the first half of the eighteenth century (1710-50). In the case of England, the mechanical skills that evolved in response to the extensive adoption of watermills for grinding in the early middle ages, were complementary to technological change and turned out to be an important power behind England's leadership in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Suggested Citation

  • Sarid, Assaf & Mokyr, Joel & van der Beek, Karine, 2019. "The Wheels of Change: Human Capital, Millwrights, and Industrialization in Eighteenth-Century England," CEPR Discussion Papers 14138, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:14138
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    economic growth; England; Human Capital; Industrialization; mechanical skills; watermill;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N73 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • 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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