Leonardo Ridolfi, Carla Salvo, Jacob Weisdorf, 17 July 2022

Fears about the effects of mechanisation on societies are not new; technology has always generated cultural anxiety throughout history. This column considers one of the most significant waves of mechanisation in history – the rise and spread of steam power in 19th century France – to examine the influence of mechanisation on labour outcomes. Rather than cutting jobs and wages, the authors find that that steam-adopting industries ended up employing up to 94% more workers than their non-steam-adopting counterparts and paid wages that were up to 5% higher on average.

Reka Juhasz, Mara Squicciarini, Nico Voigtländer, 13 August 2020

The diffusion of technologies across firms is a key driver of aggregate productivity growth. A large number of studies focus on technological adoption, the speed of diffusion, and emerging productivity differences across firms. This column examines the adoption of mechanised cotton spinning in France during the Industrial Revolution to study the short-run and long-run effects on firm productivity. It finds that firm productivity gains from this technology materialised slowly in the 19th century, consistent with the need to establish the complementary organisational practices to efficiently operate the cotton mills.


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