Cardwell's Law and the political economy of technological progress

Joel Mokyr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


This paper concerns the interaction between technological creativity and political competition. The paper is based on the observation that technological progress encounters resistance from various groups that believe they stand to lose from innovation. These pressure groups will try to manipulate the political system to suppress successful innovation. Modelling this political struggle as a stochastic process with endogenous institutional adaptation is attempted using a simulation based on urn models. Under fairly general conditions, it can be shown that the single economy will move inexorably to an absorbing barrier of technological stagnation. This process is referred to as Cardwell's Law. The paper then proceeds to show whether Cardwell's Law also holds in a world in which a number of separate economies compete with each other. It is shown that in a world with multiple economies Cardwell's Law does not hold even if it holds for each economy separately. This is consistent with the historical observation that political competition may be conducive to technological progress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-574
Number of pages14
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1994
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
National Science FoundationSES 9122384


    Dive into the research topics of 'Cardwell's Law and the political economy of technological progress'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this