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Inventing IdeasPatents, Prizes, and the Knowledge Economy$
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B. Zorina Khan

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190936075

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190936075.001.0001

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Elites and Useful Knowledge in Britain

Elites and Useful Knowledge in Britain

(p.94) 4 Elites and Useful Knowledge in Britain
Inventing Ideas

B. Zorina Khan

Oxford University Press

A longstanding claim attributes economic growth and technological change to social and scientific elites, who possess special knowledge that is unavailable to the general population. This chapter considers the significance of scientific training, costly human capital, and different types of knowledge during British industrialization by assessing the backgrounds, education, and inventive activity of major contributors to technological advances. The results show that scientists, engineers, or technicians were not well represented among the cadre of important British inventors, and many innovators remained unspecialized until very late in the nineteenth century. Informal institutions like apprenticeship and learning on the job efficiently helped creative individuals to increase their skills and productivity. Costly investments in specialized human capital and esoteric knowledge were less important than incentives for creativity, flexibility, and the ability to make incremental adjustments to produce innovations that are appropriate for prevailing conditions.

Keywords:   apprenticeship, Britain, economic growth, education, elites, great inventors, human capital, Industrial Revolution, science, specialized knowledge

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