Rage Against the Machines: Labor-Saving Technology and Unrest in England, 1830-32

79 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017 Last revised: 15 Jun 2018

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: June 6, 2018

Abstract

Can new technology cause social instability and unrest? We examine the ‘Captain Swing’ riots in 1830s England. Newly-collected data on threshing machine adoption shows that new technology was associated with both higher unemployment and more riots. We instrument technology adoption with access to water power and wheat suitability: IV estimates suggest that threshing machines were an important cause of unrest. Where vibrant labor markets softened the blow of new technology, there was less rioting. In the aftermath of the riots, technology adoption and patenting rates slowed down in areas close to Swing riots in 1830-32.

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 England, 1830-32 (June 6, 2018). 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 )

Zürich
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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