Political Fragmentation and Technology Adoption: Watermill Construction in Feudal France

47 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2006

Date Written: May 2007


The aim of this paper is to understand why some economies do not adopt existing technologies. It focuses on the political factor and studies this phenomenon through the distinctive and interesting experience of European growth: the remarkable economic expansion that took place in northwestern Europe between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, characterized by an increase in technology adoption during a period of political fragmentation and instability. In this paper I use evidence on watermill construction in the northern French region of Ponthieu, during the 11th and 12th centuries, as a case study of the effects of political fragmentation on technology adoption in the feudal economy. I show that watermill construction was significantly more intense in areas where authority was fragmented and landholding was divided between numerous landlords. I explain this using the theoretical framework of spatial models and arguing that political fragmentation reduced ruler's capacity to regulate markets and resulted in a higher level of competition in the milling market and, as predicted by theory, in a larger number of mills.

Keywords: technology, watermills, political economy, political fragmentation, medieval growth, institutions, development, investment

JEL Classification: B40, D43, G32, H11, K11, L13, N23, N53, N83, O12

Suggested Citation

van der Beek, Karine, Political Fragmentation and Technology Adoption: Watermill Construction in Feudal France (May 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=948775 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.948775

Karine Van der Beek (Contact Author)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev ( email )

1 Ben-Gurion Blvd
Beer-Sheba 84105, 84105

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