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Knowledge, Human Capital and Economic Development: Evidence from the British Industrial Revolution, 1750-1930

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  • B. Zorina Khan

Abstract

Endogenous growth models raise fundamental questions about the nature of human creativity, and the sorts of resources, skills, and knowledge inputs that shift the frontier of technology and production possibilities. Many argue that the nature of early British industrialization supports the thesis that economic advances depend on specialized scientific training or the acquisition of costly human capital. This paper examines the contributions of different types of knowledge to British industrialization, by assessing the backgrounds, education and inventive activity of the major contributors to technological advances in Britain during the crucial period between 1750 and 1930. The results indicate that scientists, engineers or technicians were not well-represented among the British great inventors until very late in the nineteenth century. Instead, important discoveries and British industrial advances were achieved by individuals who exercised commonplace skills and entrepreneurial abilities to resolve perceived industrial problems. For developing countries today, the implications are that costly investments in specialized human capital resources might be less important than incentives for creativity, flexibility, and the ability to make incremental adjustments that can transform existing technologies into inventions that are appropriate for prevailing domestic conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Zorina Khan, 2015. "Knowledge, Human Capital and Economic Development: Evidence from the British Industrial Revolution, 1750-1930," NBER Working Papers 20853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20853
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    1. Nicholas Crafts, 2004. "Steam as a general purpose technology: A growth accounting perspective," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 338-351, April.
    2. R. A. Buchanan, 1985. "Institutional Proliferation in the British Engineering Profession, 1847–1914," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 38(1), pages 42-60, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alessandro Nuvolari & Michelangelo Vasta, 2017. "The geography of innovation in Italy, 1861–1913: evidence from patent data," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 326-356.
    2. B. Zorina Khan, 2017. "Prestige and Profit: The Royal Society of Arts and Incentives for Innovation, 1750-1850," NBER Working Papers 23042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. James Foreman‐Peck & Peng Zhou, 2018. "Late marriage as a contributor to the industrial revolution in England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 71(4), pages 1073-1099, November.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O34 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Intellectual Property and Intellectual Capital

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