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Engines of Growth: Farm Tractors and Twentieth-Century U.S. Economic Welfare

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Listed:
  • Richard H. Steckel
  • William J. White

Abstract

The role of twentieth-century agricultural mechanization in changing the productivity, employment opportunities, and appearance of rural America has long been appreciated. Less attention has been paid to the impact made by farm tractors, combines, and associated equipment on the standard of living of the U.S. population as a whole. This paper demonstrates, through use of a detailed counterfactual analysis, that mechanization in the production of farm products increased GDP by more than 8.0 percent, using 1954 as a base year. This result suggests that studying individual innovations can significantly increase our understanding of the nature of economic growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard H. Steckel & William J. White, 2012. "Engines of Growth: Farm Tractors and Twentieth-Century U.S. Economic Welfare," NBER Working Papers 17879, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17879 Note: DAE PR
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17879.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2001. "Reshaping The Landscape: The Impact And Diffusion Of The Tractor In American Agriculture, 1910 1960," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(03), pages 663-698, September.
    2. Olmstead,Alan L. & Rhode,Paul W., 2008. "Creating Abundance," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521857116, November.
    3. Summerhill, William R., 1996. "Railroads and the Brazilian Economy Before 1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(02), pages 464-467, June.
    4. Andrew Schmitz & David Seckler, 1970. "Mechanized Agriculture and Social Welfare: The Case of the Tomato Harvester," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 52(4), pages 569-577.
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Bruland, Kristine & Smith, Keith, 2013. "Assessing the role of steam power in the first industrial revolution: The early work of Nick von Tunzelmann," Research Policy, Elsevier, pages 1716-1723.
    3. Richard Hornbeck & Suresh Naidu, 2014. "When the Levee Breaks: Black Migration and Economic Development in the American South," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(3), pages 963-990, March.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N52 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services

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