Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 125–144 | Cite as

Technological progress and regress in pre-industrial times

  • Shekhar Aiyar
  • Carl-Johan Dalgaard
  • Omer Moav


This paper offers micro-foundations for the dynamic relationship between technology and population in the pre-industrial world, accounting for both technological progress and the hitherto neglected but common phenomenon of technological regress. A positive feedback between population and the adoption of new techniques that increase the division of labor explains technological progress. A transient shock to productivity or population induces the neglect of some techniques rendered temporarily unprofitable, which are therefore not transmitted to the next generation. Productivity remains constrained by the smaller stock of knowledge and technology has thereby regressed. A slow process of rediscovery is required for the economy to reach its previous level of technological sophistication and population size. The model is employed to analyze specific historical examples of technological regress.

Inventions don’t just get adopted once and forever; they have to be constantly practised and transmitted, or useful techniques may be forgotten.

Jared Diamond, Ten Thousand Years of Solitude, 1993.


Technological regress Technological progress Malthusian stagnation Division of labor 

JEL Classifications

O10 O33 O40 J11 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shekhar Aiyar
    • 1
  • Carl-Johan Dalgaard
    • 2
  • Omer Moav
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.International Monetary FundWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.Hebrew UniversityJerusalamIsreal
  4. 4.Royal Holloway University of LondonEghamUK
  5. 5.Shalem CenterJerusalamIsreal
  6. 6.CEPRLondonUK

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