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

Author

Listed:
  • Peter Thompson

    (University of Houston)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Thompson, 1997. "How Much Did the Liberty Shipbuilders Learn? New Evidence for an Old Case Study," Development and Comp Systems 9712001, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpdc:9712001
    Note: Type of Document - Acrobat; prepared on IBM PC; to print on HP; pages: 30; figures: included
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    File URL: https://econwpa.ub.uni-muenchen.de/econ-wp/dev/papers/9712/9712001.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Linda Argote & Sara L. Beckman & Dennis Epple, 1990. "The Persistence and Transfer of Learning in Industrial Settings," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 36(2), pages 140-154, February.
    2. Dutton, John M. & Thomas, Annie & Butler, John E., 1984. "The History of Progress Functions as a Managerial Technology," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 204-233, June.
    3. 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.
    4. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    5. repec:bin:bpeajo:v:26:y:1995:i:1995-3:p:247-305 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. A. M. Spence, 1981. "The Learning Curve and Competition," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 12(1), pages 49-70, Spring.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Economic Growth Learning by doing; Liberty ships;

    JEL classification:

    • N6 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights

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