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More Power to the People: Electricity Adoption, Technological Change and Social Conflict

Molinder, Jakob LU ; Karlsson, Tobias LU and Enflo, Kerstin LU (2019) In Lund Papers in Economic History. General Issues
Abstract
There is a wide-spread concern that technical change may spur social conflicts, especially if workers are replaced with machines. To empirically analyze whether job destruction drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual roll-out of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,487 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Proximity to large-scale water-powered electricity plants is used to instrument for electricity adoption. Our results confirm that the labor saving nature of electricity was followed by an increase of local conflicts in the form of strikes. But displaced workers were not likely to... (More)
There is a wide-spread concern that technical change may spur social conflicts, especially if workers are replaced with machines. To empirically analyze whether job destruction drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual roll-out of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,487 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Proximity to large-scale water-powered electricity plants is used to instrument for electricity adoption. Our results confirm that the labor saving nature of electricity was followed by an increase of local conflicts in the form of strikes. But displaced workers were not likely to initiate conflicts. Instead, strikes were most common in sectors with employment growth. Similarly, we find that the strikes were of an offensive rather than a defensive nature. Thus, electrification did not result in rebellions driven by technological anxiety. It rather provided workers with a stronger bargaining position from which they could voice their claims through strikes. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Working paper
publication status
published
subject
keywords
technological change, electrification, labor demand, labor conflicts, strikes, infrastructure investments, N14, N34, N74, O14
in
Lund Papers in Economic History. General Issues
issue
2019:206
pages
36 pages
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
c79983f8-fb51-43a0-b9ff-065d870836e3
date added to LUP
2019-09-19 09:11:24
date last changed
2019-09-19 09:27:33
@misc{c79983f8-fb51-43a0-b9ff-065d870836e3,
  abstract     = {There is a wide-spread concern that technical change may spur social conflicts, especially if workers are replaced with machines. To empirically analyze whether job destruction drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual roll-out of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,487 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Proximity to large-scale water-powered electricity plants is used to instrument for electricity adoption. Our results confirm that the labor saving nature of electricity was followed by  an increase of local conflicts in the form of strikes. But displaced workers were not likely  to initiate conflicts. Instead, strikes were most common in sectors with employment growth.  Similarly, we find that the strikes were of an offensive rather than a defensive nature. Thus, electrification did not result in rebellions driven by technological anxiety. It rather provided workers with a stronger bargaining position from which they could voice their claims through strikes.},
  author       = {Molinder, Jakob and Karlsson, Tobias and Enflo, Kerstin},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Working Paper},
  number       = {2019:206},
  series       = {Lund Papers in Economic History. General Issues},
  title        = {More Power to the People: Electricity Adoption, Technological Change and Social Conflict},
  url          = {https://lup.lub.lu.se/search/ws/files/69699340/LUPEH_206.pdf},
  year         = {2019},
}