2004/11 LEM Working Paper Series

Technological Revolutions and Economic Growth: The “Age of Steam” Reconsidered

Carolina Castaldi and Alessandro Nuvolari
The aim of this paper is to review the development of steam power technology in the light of the key ideas proposed in General Purpose Technology growth models. We intend to provide a critical evaluation of the interpretive power of such models, which are elaborated around three properties of technological revolutions namely, their technological dynamism, their pervasiveness and their capacity of inducing further innovations (technical and organizational) in the using sectors. Although intuitively appealing, these concepts ought to be more rigorously defined, especially in view of empirical applications of the models. Indeed, the case of the "age of steam" shows a technology that is surely pervasive, but it is characterized by uneven rates of technical advance across application sectors. We argue that GPT based growth models do not seem particularly well-equipped for taking into account the "local" aspect of the accumulation of technological knowledge.

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