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Technology and the Great Divergence

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  • Robert Allen
  • Robert C. Allen

Abstract

The paper measures productivity growth in seventeen countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. GDP per worker and capital per worker in 1985 US dollars were estimated for 1820, 1850, 1880, 1913, 1939 by using historical national accounts to back cast Penn World Table data for 1965 and 1990. Frontier and econometric production functions are used to measure neutral technical change and local technical. The latter includes concurrent increases in capital per worker and output per worker beyond the highest values achieved. These increases were pioneered by the rich countries of the day. An increase in the capital-labour ratio was usually followed by a half century in which rich countries raised output per worker at that higher ratio. Then the rich countries moved on to a higher capital-ratio, and technical progress ceased at the lower ratio they abandoned. Most of the benefits of technical progress accrued to the rich countries that pioneer it. It is remarkable that countries in 1990 with low capital labour ratios achieved an output per worker that was no higher than countries with the same capital labour ratio in 1820. In the course of the last two hundred years, the rich countries created the production function of the world that defines the growth possibilities of poor countries today.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Allen & Robert C. Allen, 2011. "Technology and the Great Divergence," Economics Series Working Papers 548, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:548
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    File URL: http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/5001/paper548.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nathan Nunn, 2008. "The Long-term Effects of Africa's Slave Trades," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 139-176.
    2. Robert C. Allen & Jean-Pascal Bassino & Debin Ma & Christine Moll-Murata & Jan Luiten Van Zanden, 2011. "Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738–1925: in comparison with Europe, Japan, and India," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64, pages 8-38, February.
    3. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
    4. Allen, Robert C., 1983. "Collective invention," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 1-24, March.
    5. Los, Bart & Timmer, Marcel P., 2005. "The 'appropriate technology' explanation of productivity growth differentials: An empirical approach," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(2), pages 517-531, August.
    6. Allen, Robert C., 2009. "Engels' pause: Technical change, capital accumulation, and inequality in the british industrial revolution," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 418-435, October.
    7. Thomas J. Weiss, 1992. "U. S. Labor Force Estimates and Economic Growth, 1800-1860," NBER Chapters,in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 19-78 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Daniel J. Henderson & R. Robert Russell, 2005. "Human Capital And Convergence: A Production-Frontier Approach ," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 46(4), pages 1167-1205, November.
    9. Robert Allen & Robert C. Allen, 2007. "How Prosperous were the Romans? Evidence from Diocletian`s Price Edict (301 AD)," Economics Series Working Papers 363, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
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    Cited by:

    1. Seven Agir, 2011. "The Evolution of Grain Policy Beyond Europe: Ottoman Grain Administration in the Late Eighteenth Century," Working Papers 999, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Productivity; Economic growth; Global history;

    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence

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