From Growth Spurts to Sustained Growth
This paper presents new evidence on the existence of pre-industrial growth spurts and the nature of economic growth during the transition from Malthus to Solow. In this research, growth spurts are an intrinsic feature of the economy, but throughout history their effect on standards of living is mostly temporary. Sustained rises in living standards only become sustained when there are complementarities between the triple engines of growth of technological development, human capital and the organization of the workplace. In Malthusian economies, most technologies were basic and only required straightforward knowledge or human capital, and thus the skill-technology complementarity did not play a role in their development. As a consequence, most technological developments in Malthusian economies generated growth spurts that did not become sustained, although there was a temporary increase in standards of living. However, the increasing complexity of the epistemic knowledge base reported by the historical literature meant that investments in applied technology were progressively more significant, enhancing the role of human capital. After a certain threshold of the knowledge base was surpassed, more and more complex applied technologies were developed, and growth spurts became permanent features of the economy.
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