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The Spinning Jenny and the Industrial Revolution: A Reappraisal

Author

Listed:
  • Ugo Gragnolati

    () (CES - Centre d'économie de la Sorbonne - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)

  • Moschella Daniele

    (Institute of Economics of Sant'Anna [Pisa] - SSSUP - Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant'Anna [Pisa])

  • Pugliese Emanuele

    (Institute of Economics of Sant'Anna [Pisa] - SSSUP - Scuola Universitaria Superiore Sant'Anna [Pisa])

Abstract

Why was the Industrial Revolution British? In a recent article published in this Journal, Robert Allen argues that only in England was the price of labor relative to capital high enough to justify the adoption of the labor-saving technologies which characterized the Industrial Revolution. To support his argument, he uses the spinning jenny as a case study. The jenny was indeed an important labor-saving technology that was invented and widely adopted in England but not in France. Allen explains this fact by calculating the returns to adopting the jenny in each country: according to his calculations the jenny was profitable in England but not in France. The present note shows that Allen's conclusions rest on implausible profitability computations. In particular, Allen assumes that output remains constant after the adoption of the jenny while hours worked decrease dramatically. From a theoretical perspective, this is equivalent to an assumption that hours worked move inversely with the marginal product of labor. As soon as these restrictive assumptions are abandoned, the jenny turns out being profitable both in England and in France. Hence the mystery of the adoption of the jenny during the Industrial Revolution remains.

Suggested Citation

  • Ugo Gragnolati & Moschella Daniele & Pugliese Emanuele, 2011. "The Spinning Jenny and the Industrial Revolution: A Reappraisal," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-01297060, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:cesptp:hal-01297060
    DOI: 10.1017/S0022050711001604
    Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://hal-paris1.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01297060
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stephen Broadberry & Bishnupriya Gupta, 2009. "Lancashire, India, and shifting competitive advantage in cotton textiles, 1700–1850: the neglected role of factor prices1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 62(2), pages 279-305, May.
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    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Random thoughts on critiques of Allen’s theory of the Industrial Revolution
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2016-12-02 02:35:02

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Humphries, Jane & Schneider, Benjamin, 2020. "Losing the thread: a response to Robert Allen dagger: a response to Robert Allen," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 102559, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. R. C. Allen & J. L. Weisdorf, 2011. "Was there an ‘industrious revolution’ before the industrial revolution? An empirical exercise for England, c. 1300–1830," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(3), pages 715-729, August.
    3. Morgan Kelly & Joel Mokyr & Cormac Ó Gráda, 2014. "Precocious Albion: A New Interpretation of the British Industrial Revolution," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 6(1), pages 363-389, August.
    4. Crafts, Nicholas & O’Rourke, Kevin Hjortshøj, 2014. "Twentieth Century Growth*This research has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) / ERC grant agreement no. 249546.," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 6, pages 263-346, Elsevier.
    5. Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2019. "Wages at the Wheel: Were Spinners Part of the High Wage Economy?," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _174, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    6. Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2020. "Losing the thread: a response to Robert Allen," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 73(4), pages 1137-1152, November.
    7. Julio Martínez-Galarraga & Marc Prat, 2014. "Wages and prices in early Catalan industrialisation," UB Economics Working Papers 2014/305, Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat d'Economia i Empresa, UB School of Economics.
    8. Jane Humphries & Benjamin Schneider, 2019. "Spinning the industrial revolution," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 72(1), pages 126-155, February.
    9. Robert C. Allen, 2020. "Spinning their wheels: a reply to Jane Humphries and Benjamin Schneider," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 73(4), pages 1128-1136, November.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Spinning jenny; Industrial revolution; Choice of technique;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N70 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services - - - General, International, or Comparative

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