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Debt into growth: How sovereign debt accelerated the first Industrial Revolution

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Why did the country that borrowed the most industrialize first? Earlier research has viewed the explosion of debt in 18th century Britain as either detrimental, or as neutral for economic growth. In this paper, we argue instead that Britain’s borrowing boom was beneficial. The massive issuance of liquidly traded bonds allowed the nobility to switch out of low-return investments such as agricultural improvements. This switch lowered factor demand by old sectors and increased profits in new, rising ones such as textiles and iron. Because external financing contributed little to the Industrial Revolution, this boost in profits in new industries accelerated structural change, making Britain more industrial more quickly. The absence of an effective transfer of financial resources from old to new sectors also helps to explain why the Industrial Revolution led to massive social change – because the rich nobility did not lend to or invest in the revolutionizing industries, it failed to capture the high returns to capital in these sectors, leading to relative economic decline.

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  • Jaume Ventura & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2015. "Debt into growth: How sovereign debt accelerated the first Industrial Revolution," Economics Working Papers 1483, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  • Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1483
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    Cited by:

    1. Alberto Martin & Jaume Ventura, 2017. "The macroeconomics of rational bubbles: a user's guide," Economics Working Papers 1581, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    2. repec:eee:exehis:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:1-20 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Stephan Heblich & Alex Trew, 2015. "Banking and Industrialization," CDMA Working Paper Series 201502, Centre for Dynamic Macroeconomic Analysis, revised 01 Dec 2017.
    4. Jordan Roulleau-Pasdeloup, 2016. "What Made Great Britain so Great? From the Fiscal-Military State to the First Industrial Revolution," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'Econométrie et d'Economie politique (DEEP) 16.02, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, DEEP.
    5. Ni Yuping & Martin Uebele, 2015. "Size and structure of disaster relief when state capacity is limited: China’s 1823 flood," Working Papers 0083, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    6. repec:eip:journl:y:2016:i:4:p:48-69 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    crowding out; debt crises; Industrial Revolution; Ricardian equivalence; misallocation; financial repression; structural change; productivity.;

    JEL classification:

    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • E25 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Aggregate Factor Income Distribution
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War
    • H60 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - General
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N23 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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