There is broad agreement that human capital — the skills and attribute which influence individuals’ productive capacity — matters for long-term development. But curiously, there is mixed evidence on the role of human capital as a driver of industrialisation.
Part of the problem here may relate to how human capital is measured. At the macroeconomic level, human capital is typically measured with respect to education levels across the population: for example, years of schooling or literacy rates. But this may be less relevant than the ‘upper tail’ of knowledge in society: the select few with highly specialised skills. Mokyr, Sarid and van der Beek (2022) test this idea of upper-tail human capital in eighteenth-century Britain. Specifically, they look at the role of watermills, and the millwrights who were responsible for them.→