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Labour Productivity and human capital in the maritime sector of the North Atlantic, c. 1672-1815

Author

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  • Jelle van Lottum
  • Jan Luiten van Zanden

Abstract

Pre-modern growth was to a large extent dependent on processes of commercialization and specialization, based on cheap transport. Seminal interpretations of the process of economic growth before the Industrial Revolution have pointed to the strategic importance of the rise of the Atlantic economy and the growth of cities linked to this but have not really explained why Europeans were so efficient in organizing large international networks of shipping and trade. Most studies concerning early modern shipping have focused on changes in shipdesign in explaining long-term performance of European shipping in the pre-1800 period. In this paper we argue that this is only part of the explanation. Human capital – the quality of the labour force employed on ships – mattered as well. We firstly demonstrate that levels of human capital on board European ships were very high, much higher than the average for the countries from which the crew was recruited, and secondly that there were close links between the level of labour productivity in shipping and the quality of the workforce. This suggests strongly that shipping was a ‘high tech’ industry not only employing high quality capital goods, but also, as a complementary input, high quality labour, which was required to operate the increasingly complex ships and their equipment.

Suggested Citation

  • Jelle van Lottum & Jan Luiten van Zanden, 2011. "Labour Productivity and human capital in the maritime sector of the North Atlantic, c. 1672-1815," Working Papers 0022, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucg:wpaper:0022
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. A'Hearn, Brian & Baten, Jörg & Crayen, Dorothee, 2009. "Quantifying Quantitative Literacy: Age Heaping and the History of Human Capital," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(03), pages 783-808, September.
    2. Robert C. Allen, 2003. "Progress and poverty in early modern Europe," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 56(3), pages 403-443, August.
    3. de Vries,Jan & van der Woude,Ad, 1997. "The First Modern Economy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521570619, April.
    4. de Vries,Jan & van der Woude,Ad, 1997. "The First Modern Economy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521578257, April.
    5. van Zanden, Jan Luiten & van Tielhof, Milja, 2009. "Roots of growth and productivity change in Dutch shipping industry, 1500-1800," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 389-403, October.
    6. Goldstone, Jack, 2010. "The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain, 1700–1850. By Joel Mokyr. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010. Pp. xii, 564. $45.00, cloth," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 70(04), pages 993-995, December.
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    Keywords

    Human Capital; Shipping; Early Modern Period;

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