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Spinning Tales about Japanese Cotton Spinning: Saxonhouse (1974) and Lessons from New Data

  • Serguey Braguinsky (a1) and David A. Hounshell (a2)

We revisit the story of technology adoption and diffusion in Japan's Meiji-era cotton spinning industry, the study of which was pioneered by Gary Saxonhouse (1974). Using a novel data set and modern methodology, we argue that both the ease with which the best technology diffused and the role of “slavish imitation” in this process may have been overstated. We find an important role played by market competition, including asset reallocation. Our analyses provide richer insights into the complex phenomena of technology diffusion, innovation, and economic growth.

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We thank two anonymous referees and our editor, Dr. Paul Rhode for insightful comments and advice that made the paper better. We especially acknowledge Dr. Rhode's extensive and far-reaching work editing the paper. We have never before had experience with another editor who would think so deeply about and become so much immersed in the paper, to the point in which we almost felt like he was a thoughtful and brilliant coauthor. Japanese colleagues, Atsushi Ohyama, Tetsuji Okazaki, Kanji Tamagawa, and Naosuke Takamura provided useful discussions of the Japanese cotton spinning industry, with the former two also helping out with data collection and coding. Braguinsky acknowledges financial support from the Berkman Foundation, and the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. Needless to say, we bear the sole responsibility for any remaining errors or misconceptions.

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