Book Project

Seeds of Change: When Technology Disrupts Politics

Technological change is one of the fundamental drivers of long-run economic prosperity. However, technological change is also typically biased, generating economic winners and losers. How does this economic disruption affect politics? This book develops a theory of how technological change can disrupt existing power structures and party systems, especially when established parties fail to adapt.

The argument is developed in the context of India's green revolution, a period of rapid technological change in agriculture occurring between the 1960s and 1980s due to the spread of new high-yielding variety (HYV) crops. Drawing on comparative historical as well as statistical analyses, I argue that the the spread of the new crop technology contributed to political mobilization by prospering agricultural producers. In combination with the organizational failure of India's dominant Congress party to adapt, this led to the emergence of agrarian opposition parties and played a pivotal role in India's long-run transition to multi-party competition.

By contrast, though HYV crops increased rural inequality by benefiting landowning farmers but not the rural poor, this did not result in a "red revolution" in rural India as many observers initially feared. Instead, the economic grievances of the rural poor resulted mainly in an increase in property crime -- but did not translate into sustained political support for parties on the left at the ballot box.

What are the wider lessons? Joseph Schumpeter famously termed technological change a form of ‘creative destruction’ to highlight its disruptive economic consequences. The green revolution illustrates that technological change also represents an important disruptive force in politics. However, against traditional Marxist arguments, it is typically the economic winners, not the economic losers, that are mobilized in the long run. These are important and informative lessons for the twenty-first century, as disruptive new technologies spread all around us.

Read an article published in the APSR here and a brief summary at Ideas for India here.