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

Jakob Molinder (), Tobias Karlsson () and Kerstin Enflo
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Tobias Karlsson: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

No 206, Lund Papers in Economic History from Lund University, Department of Economic History

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 technological disruption drives protests, we study a historical example of a revolutionary new technology: the adoption of electricity. Focusing on the gradual expansion of the Swedish electricity grid between 1900 and 1920 enables us to analyze 2,470 Swedish parishes in a difference-in-differences framework. Exploiting the fact that proximity to large-scale hydro-powered electricity plants shaped the network layout, independently of previous economic conditions,our results indicate that the adoption 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, but rather provided workers with a stronger bargaining position from which they could voice their claims through strikes.

Keywords: technological change; electrification; labor demand; labor conflicts; strikes; infrastructure investments (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N14 N34 N74 O14 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 42 pages
Date: 2019-09-19, Revised 2020-10-13
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ene, nep-his, nep-lab and nep-reg
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