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How Much Did the Liberty Shipbuilders Learn? New Evidence for an Old Case Study

  • Peter Thompson

    (University of Houston)

This paper uses previously unavailable historical records to show that several assumptions central to a learning by doing explanation of productivity growth in the construction of Liberty ships during World War II are mistaken. Impressive increases in output per worker recorded at one of the largest shipyards in the program, Calship, are shown to be strongly associated with increases in capital intensity and with a reduction in quality, where the latter is measured by the probability of a ship developing serious fractures that threatened the lives of its crew. Capital deepening and quality change, in conjunction with changes in production technologies and capacity utilization, account for virtually all the increase in labor productivity.

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File URL: http://econwpa.repec.org/eps/dev/papers/9712/9712001.pdf
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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Development and Comp Systems with number 9712001.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: 11 Dec 1997
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpdc:9712001
Note: Type of Document - Acrobat; prepared on IBM PC; to print on HP; pages: 30; figures: included
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://econwpa.repec.org

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  1. Krugman, Paul, 1987. "The narrow moving band, the Dutch disease, and the competitive consequences of Mrs. Thatcher : Notes on trade in the presence of dynamic scale economies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1-2), pages 41-55, October.
  2. A. M. Spence, 1981. "The Learning Curve and Competition," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(1), pages 49-70, Spring.
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