The Economic Growth Engine
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The Economic Growth Engine

How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity

Robert U. Ayres and Benjamin Warr

The historic link between output (GDP) growth and employment has weakened. Since there is no quantitively verifiable economic theory to explain past growth, this unique book explores the fundamental relationship between thermodynamics (physical work) and economics.
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Chapter 2: Technical Progress

Robert U. Ayres and Benjamin Warr


INTRODUCTION In the previous chapter we focused primarily on macroeconomic theories relevant to growth, and secondarily on the role of technology in those theories. In this chapter we reverse the emphasis, focusing on technology and technical progress as such. It must be acknowledged that, although we by no means exclude social technologies and institutional changes from consideration, our discussion hereafter is almost exclusively focused on physical technologies. This bias is due to the fact that it is far more difficult to define a social technology precisely, still less measure its performance in quantitative terms, than it is for a physical technology. However, we assume that most of the general conclusions of this chapter are equally applicable to social technologies as well as to the physical technologies presented here from which most of our examples are taken. 2.2 TECHNOLOGICAL TRAJECTORIES The gradual evolution of a constrained upward-tending knowledge search and acquisition process over decades has been described as a technological trajectory (Perez-Perez 1983; Freeman 1989). We would modify the definition slightly. For us, a technological trajectory is a sequence of developments starting from a distinct functional configuration utilizing a basic principle. For instance, the ‘atmospheric’ reciprocating steam engine beginning with Newcomen can be regarded as the starting point of a trajectory. The trajectory changed direction and was accelerated by James Watt’s condensing engine. This was followed by his double-acting valve system, the ‘sun and planet’ gearing, and the crank and flywheel scheme for converting reciprocating motion into...

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