DP11800 | Rage Against the Machines: Labour-Saving Technology and Unrest in England, 1830-32

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Can new technology cause social instability and unrest? We examine the famous ‘Captain Swing’ riots in 1830s England. Newly-collected data on threshing machine diffusion shows that labour-saving technology was associated with more riots. We instrument technology adoption with the share of heavy soils in a parish: IV estimates show that threshing machines were an important cause of unrest. Where alternative employment opportunities softened the blow of new technology, there was less rioting. In areas affected by the Swing riots in 1830-32, technology adoption and patenting rates slowed down for decades thereafter.