Rage Against the Machines: Labor-Saving Technology and Unrest in Industrializing England

64 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017 Last revised: 9 Dec 2019

See all articles by Bruno Caprettini

Bruno Caprettini

University of Zurich

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: December 9, 2019

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Caprettini, Bruno and Voth, Hans-Joachim, Rage Against the Machines: Labor-Saving Technology and Unrest in Industrializing England (December 9, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2905046 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2905046

Bruno Caprettini (Contact Author)

University of Zurich ( email )

Z├╝rich
Switzerland

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society ( email )

Raemistrasse 71
Zuerich, 8006
Switzerland

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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