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Working paper

Technology Adoption in Agrarian Societies: the Effect of Volga Germans in Imperial Russia

This paper examines the adoption of advanced agricultural technology in pre-industrial societies. We use the case of the spatially concentrated German minority in Saratov province of the late Imperial Russia as an empirical setting to test the “costly adoption” hypothesis, which predicts that the adoption of different types of technologies depends on the associated communication costs. We document significant concentric spatial pattern of technology adoption among Russian peasants regarding advanced agricultural equipment (heavy ploughs and fanning mills) and easily observable techniques (wheat production) in the areas located closer to the German settlements. Moreover, we show a significant rise in agricultural productivity measured by wheat yield per capita associated with heavy plough adoption. However, we do not find any evidence of the adoption of “know-how” requiring the transmission of noncodified knowledge – specifically, artisanal skills. Our findings suggest that the failure to adopt non-observable techniques from the technological frontier may be the key to the problem of catching-up economic growth.