Communication prices, science, and innovation


Scientific and technological progress are basic drivers of long-run financial progress (Romer 1986, Lucas 1988). Not surprisingly, an excessive amount of analysis has aimed to know the components that facilitate science and technological improvement. One issue that has acquired substantial consideration is the position of communication between scientists, engineers, and inventors. It appears pure that these working on the frontier of scientific and technical data would profit from exchanging data, discussing their concepts, and receiving recommendation and suggestions on their work. But, solely a restricted variety of empirical research take a look at how a lot communication prices impede scientific and technological improvement and thus long-run financial progress.

A major problem to finding out communication prices in fashionable environments is the huge array of communication strategies obtainable. When people can simply substitute between totally different communication channels, it’s troublesome to isolate the influence of adjustments in communication prices on outcomes.

Researchers have taken 4 common approaches to cope with this problem. One method infers the significance of communication with out immediately measuring communication prices. For instance, Jaffe et al. (1993) appeared on the geographic proximity of inventors that cited each other in patents to deduce the significance of communication prices, which presumably are smaller over shorter distances. 

A second method has been to contemplate noticed adjustments to commerce prices (e.g. Agrawal et al. 2017 utilizing highways, or Catalini et al. 2020 utilizing airways) that suggest adjustments in communication prices. 

A 3rd focuses on slim occasions and communities the place adjustments in communication prices might be higher remoted. Agrawal and Goldfarb (2008) examine the influence of BITNET, an early precursor to the web, on collaboration amongst college researchers. 

A fourth method entails inspecting historic settings, when there have been far fewer strategies for long-distance communication. Current research – resembling Claudia Steinwender’s (2018) work on the introduction of the Atlantic telegraph cable on commerce flows and Peter Koudij’s (2014) work on 18th-century monetary markets – have proven how historic settings can be utilized to acquire better-identified proof on the significance of communication. Nevertheless, present work on this vein has not but examined the influence of communication prices on science or innovation.

In Hanlon et al. (2022), we draw on one of the dramatic adjustments in communication know-how in historical past, the introduction of the primary fashionable postal system in Britain in 1840, to supply new proof on the affect of communication prices on each science and know-how improvement. 

An 1839 Act of Parliament changed Britain’s advanced and costly system of distance-based postage with a single low postage charge, the Uniform Penny Publish, and the primary adhesive postage stamp, the well-known Penny Black. The end result was an unlimited and speedy improve within the variety of letters despatched (Determine 1). 

Determine 1 Variety of letters despatched in Britain, earlier than and after the Uniform Penny Publish

As a result of the reform changed a distance-based postage system with a single uniform charge, the discount in communication prices various throughout area. We exploit this as a pure experiment to look at the results of communication prices on science and know-how improvement.

Step one in our evaluation is measuring the change in communication prices between areas within the UK. To develop this measure, we establish and geolocate 618 put up cities in England and Wales and over 1,600 related sub-post cities (left-hand panel of Determine 2). We additionally map out the postal street community connecting every put up city (right-hand panel of Determine 2). Reconstructing the distance-based pricing scheme earlier than the 1840 reform, we calculate the change in postage prices between any two put up cities within the nation because of the reform.

Determine 2 Publish cities, sub-post cities, and put up roads within the UK round 1838

To review the influence on science, we gather articles and citations from the main tutorial journal of the period, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. We geolocate every writer and cited scientist by means of a meticulous guide evaluate of accessible biographical sources for every particular person. As soon as geolocated, these information enable us to look at whether or not we see a relative improve in citations between pairs of scientists that skilled a bigger relative discount in bilateral communication prices following the reform. Our outcomes clearly present elevated scientific citations attributable to decrease communication prices. After the reform, the gradient with which citations declined with distance-based postage prices fell by round 70%.

To look at the influence on know-how improvement, we use patent information, a normal information supply for investigating innovation outcomes. Particularly, we take a look at whether or not patenting elevated in areas that benefited extra from the reform. To assemble a location-level measure of the influence of the reform, we observe the market entry method of Donaldson and Hornbeck (2016) however utilized it to communication prices to generate a letter market entry measure. We present that patenting elevated in areas that skilled extra vital enhancements in letter market entry because of the reform.

Naturally, we’ve got to watch out that the estimated results had been because of the postal reform slightly than to different adjustments occurring in Britain across the identical time. A very powerful of those, by far, was the development of early railroads. We management for the roll-out of recent railroads throughout our examine interval, developing a year-level GIS map of the railroad community, the turnpike community, and the community of canals and coastal transport routes in use. The introduction of the telegraph can’t confound our findings as a result of it was solely used for railway operations till the mid-1850s.

These new findings push our understanding of the influence of communication prices on science and know-how improvement. Particularly, they present that substantial reductions in long-distance communication prices can have a significant influence on each science and know-how, two key drivers of long-run financial progress. Facilitating communication between researchers will doubtless contribute to financial progress.

These outcomes additionally contribute to work on the important position that institutional reforms performed in early financial progress. As Acemoglu et al. (2016) notice, the put up workplace was one of the vital authorities establishments throughout this era. Current work by Abhay and Xu (2022) reveals that strengthening this establishment can facilitate know-how improvement. Our outcomes present additional proof of the contribution of institutional reforms to financial progress through the Industrial Revolution.


Abhay, A, and G Xu (2022), “Strengthening state capability: Postal reform and innovation through the Gilded Age”, NBER Working Paper 29852.

Acemoglu, D, J Moscona and J A Robinson (2016), “State capability and American know-how: Proof from the nineteenth century”, American Financial Evaluation 106(5): 61–67.

Agrawal, A, and A Goldfarb (2008), “Restructuring analysis: Communication prices and the democratization of college innovation”, American Financial Evaluation 98(4): 1578–90.

Agrawal, A, A Galasso and A Oettl (2017), “Roads and innovation”, Evaluation of Economics and Statistics 99(3): 417–434.

Catalini, C, C Fons-Rosen and P Gaulé (2020), “How do journey prices form collaboration?”, Administration Science 66(8): 3340–60.

Donaldson, D, and R Hornbeck (2016), “Railroads and American financial progress: A ‘market entry’ method”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 131(2): 799–858.

Hanlon, W W, S Heblich, F Monte and M B Schmitz (2022), “A penny on your ideas”, NBER Working Paper 30076.

Jaffe, A B, M Trajtenberg and R Henderson (1993), “Geographic localization of information spillovers as evidenced by patent citations”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 108(3): 577–98.

Koudijs, P (2014), “The boats that didn’t sail: Asset worth volatility in a pure experiment”, Journal of Finance.

Lucas, R E (1988), “On the mechanics of financial improvement”, Journal of Financial Economics 22(1): 3–4.

Romer, P M (1986), “Rising returns and long-run progress”, Journal of Political Financial system 94(5): 1002–37.

Steinwender, C (2018), “Actual results of knowledge frictions: When the states and the dominion turned united”, American Financial Evaluation 108(3): 657–96.



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