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New Answers to Old Questions: Transport Costs and the Slow Adoption of Ring Spinning in Lancashire

Listed author(s):
  • Tim Leunig

    (Department of Economics, Royal Holloway College, University of London)

It has been argued that the additional cost of transporting ring yarn in the vertically and geographically specialised Lancashire cotton industry was sufficiently high to deter spinners from adopting rings. The absence of a transition to large scale vertically integrated plants is seen as a form of entrepreneurial failure. In this paper we use new evidence to show that the majority of yarn could have been woven within the district in which it was spun, and, further, that in such areas, the average distance between spinners and weavers was a matter of yards. Transport costs were no more important for these firms that for vertically integrated ones. This yields a testable hypothesis: vertically specialised firms located in this areas should have been as read to adopt rings as were integrated firms. We test this proposition and find it to be correct: co-located independent, vertically specialised firms were as likely to adopt rings as were vertically integrated firms. As such the industry's failure to move to large scale vertically integrated production cannot be characterised as a form of entrepreneurial failure.

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Paper provided by Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford in its series Oxford University Economic and Social History Series with number _022.

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Length: 17 pages
Date of creation: 01 Feb 1998
Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_022
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  1. William Lazonick, 1984. "Rings and Mules in Britain: Reply," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(2), pages 393-398.
  2. N. F. R. Crafts & C. K. Harley, 1992. "Output growth and the British industrial revolution: a restatement of the Crafts-Harley view," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 45(4), pages 703-730, November.
  3. Lars G. Sandberg, 1969. "American Rings and English Mules: The Role of Economic Rationality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(1), pages 25-43.
  4. DONALD N. McCLOSKEY, 1970. "Did Victorian Britain Fail?," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 23(3), pages 446-459, December.
  5. William Lazonick, 1981. "Factor Costs and the Diffusion of Ring Spinning in Britain Prior to World War I," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 96(1), pages 89-109.
  6. John Jewkes, 1951. "The Growth Of World Industry," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 3(1), pages 1-15.
  7. Lazonick, William, 1983. "Industrial Organization and Technological Change: The Decline of the British Cotton Industry," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(02), pages 195-236, June.
  8. Lars G. Sandberg, 1984. "The Remembrance of Things Past: Rings and Mules Revisited," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(2), pages 387-392.
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