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Capital Accumulation, Technological Change, and the Distribution of Income during the British Industrial Revolution

  • Robert C. Allen

The paper reviews the macroeconomic data describing the British economy during the industrial revolution and shows that they contain a story of dramatically increasing inequality between 1800 and 1840: GDP per worker rose 37%, real wages stagnated, and the profit rate doubled. The share of profits in national income expanded at the expense of labour and land. A Cambridge-Cambridge model of economic growth and income distribution is developed to explain these trends. An aggregate production function explains the distribution of income (as in Cambridge, MA), while a savings function in which savings depended on property income (as in Cambridge, England) governs accumulation. Simulations with the model show that technical progress was the prime mover behind the industrial revolution. Capital accumulation was a necessary complement. The surge in inequality was intrinsic to the growth process. Technical change increased the demand for capital and raised the profit rate and capital`s share. The rise in profits, in turn, sustained the industrial revolution by financing the necessary capital accumulation.

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File URL: http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/working_papers/paper239.pdf
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Paper provided by University of Oxford, Department of Economics in its series Economics Series Working Papers with number 239.

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Date of creation: 01 Jun 2005
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Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:239
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