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Groningen Growth and Development Centre

Faculty of Economics and Business
Historical Development Modern Times

Related Projects

Overview
PhD project 1 – Dr. P.J. Woltjer, The Roaring Thirties: Productivity Growth and Technological Change in Great Britain and the United States during the Early Twentieth Century (Groningen 2013)
PhD project 2 – Dr. J. Veenstra, Missed Opportunities? Germany and the Transatlantic Labor-Productivity Gap, 1900–1940 (Groningen 2014)
PhD project 3 – Dr. N.E.S. Bos, MSc, British Failure? Britain’s Relative Economic Decline in an International Context, 1936-1970 (Groningen 2015)
The Yankees of Europe? A New View on Technology and Productivity in German Manufacturing in the Early Twentieth Century


PhD project 1

The Roaring Thirties: Productivity Growth and Technological Change in Great Britain and the United States during the Early Twentieth Century

Pieter Jacob Woltjer

Where most of the academic contributions studying the United States during the Depression era focused on the output not produced, income not earned and resources not exploited, the economic historian Alexander Field argues that the 1930s were actually the “most technologically progressive decade of the century.” The period 1929–1941, Field shows, witnessed little to no growth in both labor hours and capital for the US private non-farm economy. Nevertheless, the output of this sector was 33 to 40 percent higher in 1941 as compared with 1929. This gap between the growth of output and inputs reflected improvements in total-factor productivity (TFP) or disembodied technological change, which Fields put somewhere between 2.3 and 2.8 percent per annum over this twelve-year period. These gains in TFP represented, according to Field, real improvements in the productive capacity of the American economy.

Woltjer’s thesis reexamines the comparative labor-productivity performance of the United Kingdom – the main industrial-rival of the US. In light of the dynamic productivity developments reported by Field, he reassesses the British technological and organizational innovations and provides a novel explanation for the rapid divergence of the Anglo-American labor-productivity levels, observed during the early twentieth century. Chapters 2 and 3 present new benchmarks of Anglo-American comparative labor productivity, establishing the relative productivity gap between the two leading industrial nations at both the start of the twentieth century (ca. 1910) as well as during the interwar era (1935). Chapter 4 discusses technological change, capital accumulation and efficiency decline in Britain and the US between the wars. Lastly, chapter 5 reexamines the role of American labor quality for the first half of the twentieth century.


PhD project 2

Missed Opportunities? Germany and the Transatlantic Labor-Productivity Gap, 1900–1940
Joost Veenstra

At the turn of the twentieth century a labor-productivity gap emerged between Europe and the US in manufacturing with the former lagging increasingly far behind the latter. This transatlantic gap in economic performance proved irreversible and persists until the present day. As such, it is a main feature of modern economic development. The beginning of this divergence coincided with a period of rapid technological change, the second industrial revolution, which raises the question whether European countries failed to effectively catch the winds of change and miss out on opportunities for growth? Veenstra’s thesis addresses this question for Germany, a country that given its prominent position in Europe is underrepresented in the literature, in the period 1900-1940.


PhD project 3

British Failure? Britain's Relative Economic Decline in an International Context, 1936-1970
Nikita Bos


Relative economic decline has since long been a research topic in the literature on long-term British economic development. In particular the literature on the post-second world war era suggests that the process of relative economic decline was the result of failure of British industrial policies, and not an inevitable consequence of global capitalism and economic growth in other nations. This study reinvestigates Britain’s productivity performance in manufacturing in an international context between 1935 and 1970. Structural, technical, and institutional factors are studied from the perspective of the industry-of-origin approach, by making use of detailed industry-level data from official sources. This study reveals that the British performance in the manufacturing sector in the 1950s cannot be characterised by concepts like failure. Britain’s commitment to trade with the Sterling Area, however, did contribute to the relatively poor performance in labour productivity during the 1960s.


The Yankees of Europe?

A New View on Technology and Productivity in German Manufacturing in the Early Twentieth Century

Abstract

Labor productivity in German manufacturing lagged behind the United States in the early twentieth century. Traditionally, this is attributed to dichotomous technology paths across the Atlantic. However, various industry case studies suggest rapid diffusion of U.S. technologies. We develop a novel framework to reconcile these findings. Labor-productivity gaps are decomposed into differences in technology and differences in the efficiency with which technology is used. We find that by 1936 in the majority of industries inefficient assimilation of modern technologies - and not the use of different technology - accounted for most of the U.S./German labor-productivity gap.

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Last modified:29 April 2021 12.24 p.m.