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

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  • Molinder, Jakob

    (Department of Economic History, Uppsala University)

  • Karlsson, Tobias

    (Department of Economic History, Lund University)

  • Enflo, Kerstin

    (Department of Economic History, Lund University)

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 technological disruption drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual expansion of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,470 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Exploiting the fact that proximity to large-scale hydro-powered electricity plants shaped the network layout, independently of previous economic conditions,our results indicate that the adoption 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, but rather provided workers with a stronger bargaining position from which they could voice their claims through strikes.

Suggested Citation

  • Molinder, Jakob & Karlsson, Tobias & Enflo, Kerstin, 2019. "More Power to the People: Electricity Adoption, Technological Change and Social Conflict," Lund Papers in Economic History 206, Lund University, Department of Economic History, revised 13 Oct 2020.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0206
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    Cited by:

    1. Molinder, Jakob & Karlsson, Tobias & Enflo, Kerstin, 2022. "Social democracy and the decline of strikes," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 83(C).
    2. Björn Brey, 2021. "The long-run gains from the early adoption of electricity," Discussion Papers 2021-05, University of Nottingham, GEP.
    3. 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

    technological change; electrification; labor demand; labor conflicts; strikes; infrastructure investments;
    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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