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Scale versus Scope in the Diffusion of New Technology: Evidence from the Farm Tractor

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  • Daniel P. Gross

    (Harvard Business School, Strategy Unit)

Abstract

Using the farm tractor as a case study, I show that lags in technology diffusion arise along two distinct margins, which I term scale and scope. Though tractors are now used in nearly every agricultural field operation and in the production of nearly all crops, they first developed with much more limited application. Early diffusion was accordingly rapid in these narrower applications, but limited in scope until tractor technology generalized. The sequence of diffusion is consistent with a model of R&D in specific- versus general-purpose attributes and with other historical examples, suggesting that the key to understanding technology diffusion lies not only in explaining the number of different users, but also in explaining the number of different uses.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel P. Gross, 2016. "Scale versus Scope in the Diffusion of New Technology: Evidence from the Farm Tractor," Harvard Business School Working Papers 16-108, Harvard Business School, revised Oct 2017.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:16-108
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    2. Jung, Yeonha, 2020. "The long reach of cotton in the US South: Tenant farming, mechanization, and low-skill manufacturing," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 143(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Technology diffusion; Spatial technology diffusion; Farm tractors; R&D; General-purpose technologies;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N52 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • O32 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Management of Technological Innovation and R&D
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services

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