Back to the past: the historical roots of labor-saving automation

Jacopo Staccioli, Maria Enrica Virgillito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper, relying on a still relatively unexplored long-term dataset on U.S. patenting activity, provides empirical evidence on the history of labor-saving innovations back to early nineteenth century. The identification of mechanization/automation heuristics, retrieved via textual content analysis on current robotic technologies by Montobbio et al. (Robots and the origin of their labour-saving impact, LEM Working Paper Series 2020/03), allows to focus on a limited set of CPC codes where mechanization and automation technologies are more prevalent. We track their time evolution, clustering, eventual emergence of wavy behavior, and their comovements with long-term GDP growth. Our results challenge both the general-purpose technology approach and the strict 50-year Kondratiev cycle, while they provide evidence of the emergence of erratic constellations of heterogeneous technological artefacts, in line with the development-block approach enabled by autocatalytic systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-57
Number of pages31
JournalEurasian Business Review
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Industrial revolutions
  • Labor-saving technologies
  • Search heuristics
  • Wavelet analysis


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