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The Spinning Jenny and the Industrial Revolution: A Reappraisal

Listed author(s):
  • Ugo Gragnolati

    ()

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

  • Moschella Daniele

    (Institute of Economics, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa)

  • Pugliese Emanuele

    (Institute of Economics, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa)

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.

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Paper provided by HAL in its series Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) with number hal-01297060.

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Date of creation: 30 Jun 2011
Publication status: Published in Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 2011, 71 (2), <10.1017/S0022050711001604>
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
Contact details of provider: Web page: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/

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