Ploughs, Fairs and Skills: the Volga Germans and Technology Adoption in Late Imperial Russia
47 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2019 Last revised: 22 May 2020
Date Written: September 10, 2019
This paper examines knowledge spillovers across ethnic boundaries using the case of German immigration to the Russian Empire. We digitize the data on Saratov province in the early 20th century, and find that distance to German colonies predicts the prevalence of heavy iron ploughs, fanning mills and wheat sowing among Russian peasants, who traditionally ploughed with a light wooden ard and sowed rye. The main channel of technology adoption was German fairs. We show that heavy ploughs increased the labor productivity of Russian peasants. However, communication barriers precluded Russians from adopting skill-intensive occupations like blacksmithing, mechanics, carpentry, and other crafts. The results suggest that a skilled minority may enhance development through introduction of advanced tools without transmitting their skills to a receiving society.
Keywords: technology adoption, economic development, agriculture, Russian Empire
JEL Classification: N33, N53, I15, O15
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