Resistance to technology adoption: The rise and decline of guilds

Klaus Desmet, Stephen L. Parente

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper analyzes the decision of a group of specialized workers to form a guild and block the adoption of a new technology that does not require their specialized input. The theory predicts an inverted-U relation between guilds and market size: for small markets, firm profits are insufficient to cover the fixed cost of adopting the new technology, and hence, specialized workers have no reason to form guilds; for intermediate sized markets, firm profits are large enough to cover the higher fixed costs, but not large enough to defeat workers' resistance, and so workers form guilds and block adoption; and for large markets, these profits are sufficiently large to overcome worker resistance and so guilds disband and the more productive technology diffuses throughout the economy. We show that this inverted-U relation between guilds and market size predicted by our theory exists in a dataset of Italian guilds from the 14th to the 19th century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-458
Number of pages22
JournalReview of Economic Dynamics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Competition
  • Guilds
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Market size
  • Resistance to technology
  • Special interest groups
  • Technology adoption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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