American Economic Review, 108 (11): 3339-76
Awarded FREIT-EIIT Best Graduate Paper Prize, 2014
Media coverage: Trade Talks, AEA Research Highlights, Vox, CentrePiece, chrisblattman.com, Bloomberg, pseudoerasmus.com
This paper uses a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of temporary trade protection on long-term economic development. I find that regions in the French Empire which became better protected from trade with the British for exogenous reasons during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15) increased capacity in mechanized cotton spinning to a larger extent than regions which remained more exposed to trade. In the long-run, regions with exogenously higher spinning capacity had higher activity in mechanized cotton spinning. They also had higher value-added per capita in industry up to the second half of the 19th century, but not later.
Technology Adoption and Productivity Growth: Evidence from Industrialization in France
with Mara P. Squicciarini and Nico Voigtländer
We construct a novel dataset to examine the process of technology adoption during a period of rapid technological change: The diffusion of mechanized cotton spinning during the Industrial Revolution in France. Before mechanization, cotton spinning was performed in households, while production in firms only emerged with the new technology around 1800. This allows us to isolate the firm productivity distribution of new technology adopters. We document several stylized facts that can explain the well-documented puzzle that major technological breakthroughs tend to be adopted slowly across firms and – even after being adopted – take time to be reflected in higher aggregate productivity: The productivity of firms in mechanized cotton spinning was initially highly dispersed. Over the subsequent decades, cotton spinning experienced dramatic productivity growth that was almost entirely driven by a disappearance of firms in the lower tail. In contrast, innovations in other sectors (with gradual technological progress) shifted the whole productivity distribution. We document rich historical and empirical evidence suggesting that the pattern in cotton spinning was driven by the need to re-organize production under the new technology. This process of ‘trial and error’ led to widely dispersed initial productivity draws, low initial average productivity, and – in the subsequent decades – to high productivity growth as new entrants adopted improved methods of production and organization.
All aboard: The aggregate effects of port development
with César Ducruet, Dávid Krisztián Nagy and Claudia Steinwender
New draft coming soon.
previously circulated as "Drivers of Fragmented Production Chains: Evidence from the 19th century"
This paper uncovers a novel mechanism through which information frictions matter for trade in differentiated goods; the product specification mechanism. We estimate the effect of a reduction in communication time on imports of three product categories in 19th century cotton textile trade; yarn, plain cloth, and finished cloth. In order to identify causal effects, we use exogenous variation in the ruggedness of the submarine seafloor to predict in which year countries get connected to the global telegraph network. The telegraph dramatically reduced the time it took to exchange information expressed in words, but did not affect the exchange of physical objects such as product samples. Using evidence from cotton traders' communication, we show that the examined three products differed in their codifiability, that is, in the extent to which merchants specified product attributes in words. Empirically, we find that communication time reductions had the largest effect on imports of the most codifiable product; yarn, and the smallest effect on the non-codifiable product, finished cotton cloth. Our results suggest that the effect of ICT on trade and fragmentation of production depends on the technology-specific codifiability of product specifications.