Rage Against the Machines: Labor-Saving Technology and Unrest in Industrializing England
64 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017 Last revised: 9 Dec 2019
Date Written: December 9, 2019
Can new technology cause social instability and unrest? We examine the famous `Captain Swing' riots in 1830s England. Newly-collected data on threshing machine diffusion shows that labor-saving technology was associated with more riots. We instrument technology adoption with the share of heavy soils in a parish: IV estimates demonstrate that threshing machines were an important cause of unrest. Where alternative employment opportunities softened the blow of new technology, there was less rioting. Conversely, where enclosures had impoverished workers, the effect of threshing machines on rioting was amplified.
Keywords: Labor-saving technology, social instability, riots, welfare support, agricultural technology, factor prices and technological change
JEL Classification: P16, J21, J43, N33
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