Does Economic History Need GPTs?

34 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2008

See all articles by Alexander J. Field

Alexander J. Field

Santa Clara University - Leavey School of Business - Economics Department

Date Written: September 28, 2008


In the last decade one of the most successful memes in economic history has been the concept of a general purpose technology. The rapid multiplication of technologies accorded this designation has raised questions about whether the concept has gotten out of hand. My intent in this essay is to ask whether the concept has indeed gotten out of hand, and, more fundamentally, whether, when the concept of a GPT and the ways it has been used are critically examined, we may conclude that the discipline of economic history could do as well without it. I note that the GPT criteria are not always consistently applied, the technologies under discussion are often not clearly identified, and that the criteria ultimately do a haphazard job of separating the consequential from the inconsequential.

Keywords: GPTs, Technological Change, TFP, Social Savings

JEL Classification: N01, N1, O3, O47

Suggested Citation

Field, Alexander J., Does Economic History Need GPTs? (September 28, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Alexander J. Field (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University - Leavey School of Business - Economics Department ( email )

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Santa Clara, CA California 95053
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