The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

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Habakkuk, John Hrothgar (1915–2002)

  • Ravi Mirchandani
Living reference work entry

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95121-5_909-2

Abstract

Born in Wales in 1915, Habakkuk graduated from Cambridge in 1936, where he was a Fellow of Pembroke College from 1938 until 1950. He held the Oxford chair of economic history from 1950 to 1967, when he became Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. He retired in 1984. As a member of the Advisory Council on Public Records (1958–1970), the Royal Commission on Historic Manuscripts, and the British Library Organizing Committee, amongst other bodies, he was active in the field of public records; he was knighted in 1974.

Keywords

Britain, economics in Capital-intensive technology Falling rate of profit Habakkuk, J. H. Labour supply Technical change United States, economics in 

JEL Classifications

B31 

Born in Wales in 1915, Habakkuk graduated from Cambridge in 1936, where he was a Fellow of Pembroke College from 1938 until 1950. He held the Oxford chair of economic history from 1950 to 1967, when he became Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. He retired in 1984. As a member of the Advisory Council on Public Records (1958–1970), the Royal Commission on Historic Manuscripts, and the British Library Organizing Committee, amongst other bodies, he was active in the field of public records; he was knighted in 1974.

His major contribution was to the study of the rates of technological change in Britain and America in the 19th century and the reasons for the much more rapid development and use of manufacturing technology in the United States. In his book, American and British Technology in the Nineteenth Century (1962), American industrial development is roughly divided into two important stages, the period before the first wave of immigration in the 1840s, which laid the ground for future development, and the period after 1870 when abundant natural resources and rapid growth of market demand provided the stimulus for growth.

Habakkuk argues that American technological development in the early period, by contrast with Britain, was stimulated by the high cost of labour relative to capital and the relative inelasticity of labour supply. The expanding manufacturer, to avoid a falling marginal rate of profit, was more likely than his British counterpart to look to capital-intensive and labour-saving technology. Though Habakkuk was also keen to stress the importance of social factors, the suspicion of British employers and the hostility of British labour to new techniques, his explanation of the disparity is grounded in economic relationships.

Habakkuk’s thesis has come under considerable scrutiny; recent research has tended to suggest that there was considerable diversity, both on a regional basis and between different industries, in development on both sides of the Atlantic. Economic historians have also questioned the timing of significant development in the States and chosen to put greater stress on non-economic explanations.

Habakkuk also made notable contributions to the debates on British population growth in the late 18th century and on the changing pattern of landholding as smaller holdings gave way to larger units in the same period.

Selected Works

  • 1953. English population in the eighteenth century. English Historical Review 6:117–33.

  • 1962. American and British technology in the nineteenth century: The search for labour-saving inventions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • 1968. Industrial organisation since the industrial revolution. Southampton: University of Southampton Press.

  • 1971. Population growth and economic development since 1750. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

  • 1979–1981. The rise and fall of English landed families, 1600–1800. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society I 29: 187–207. II, 30: 199–221; III, 31: 195–217.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ravi Mirchandani
    • 1
  1. 1.