Skip to content Skip to navigation

Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run

Mar 2000
Working Paper
99-030
By  Charles Jones
This paper studies a growth model that is able to match several key facts of economic history. For thousands of years, the average standard of living seems to have risen very little, despite increases in the level of technology and large increases in the level of the population. Then, after thousands of years of little change, the level of per capita consumption increased dramatically in less than two centuries. Quantitative analysis of the model highlights two factors central to understanding this history. The first is a virtuous circle: more people produce more ideas, which in turn makes additional population growth possible. The second is an improvement in institutions that promote innovation, such as property rights: the simulated economy indicates that arguably the single most important factor in the transition to modern growth has been the increase in the fraction of output paid to compensate inventors for the fruits of their labor.