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Debt into growth: how sovereign debt accelerated the first industrial revolution

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  • Jaume Ventura
  • Hans-Joachim Voth

Abstract

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," ECON - Working Papers 194, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:194
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    3. Stephan Heblich & Alex Trew, 2019. "Banking and Industrialization," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 17(6), pages 1753-1796.
    4. Harris, Edwyna & La Croix, Sumner, 2021. "Understanding the gains to capitalists from colonization: Lessons from Robert E. Lucas, Jr., Karl Marx and Edward Gibbon Wakefield," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 187(C), pages 348-359.
    5. O'Brien, Patrick Karl & Palma, Nuno, 2020. "Not an ordinary bank but a great engine of state: The Bank of England and the British economy, 1694-1844," eabh Papers 20-03, The European Association for Banking and Financial History (EABH).
    6. Sussman, Nathan, 2019. "The Financial Development of London in the 17th Century Revisited: A View from the Accounts of the Corporation of London," CEPR Discussion Papers 13920, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    7. Stephan Heblich & Alex Trew, 2019. "Banking and Industrialization," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 17(6), pages 1753-1796.
    8. Asriyan, Vladimir & Laeven, Luc & Martín, Alberto & Van der Ghote, Alejandro N & Vanasco, Victoria, 2021. "Falling Interest Rates and Credit Misallocation: Lessons from General Equilibrium," CEPR Discussion Papers 16720, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. 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'économie 16.02, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, Département d’économie.
    10. 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).
    11. Vladimir Asriyan & Luc Laeven & Alberto Martin & Alejandro Van der Ghote & Victoria Vanasco, 2021. "Falling interest rates and credit reallocation: Lessons from general equilibrium," Economics Working Papers 1784, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jun 2022.
    12. I. Shovkun, 2016. "Neo-industrialization in Ukraine: are there macroeconomic background and investment potential?," Economy and Forecasting, Valeriy Heyets, issue 4, pages 48-69.
    13. Mohajan, Haradhan, 2019. "The First Industrial Revolution: Creation of a New Global Human Era," MPRA Paper 96644, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 17 Jul 2019.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Crowding out; debt crises; Industrial Revolution; Ricardian equivalence; misallocation; financial repression; structural change; productivity;
    All these keywords.

    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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