Where do ideas come from? Book production and patents in a global and temporal perspective

Plopeanu, A., Foldvari, P., van Leeuwen, B. and van Zanden, J.L.

In this paper we try to establish the link between book production and the spread of "ideas" as proxied by patents. Two mechanisms may be distinguished. First, in the initial phase of economic development, the production of books may stimulate the accumulation of knowledge already present in society. After such an accumulation is complete, books may stimulate a common research focus within a certain geographic space. Applying this to the case of England, we find that books indeed had a significant on the number of patents during the second Industrial Revolution. However, when education became increasingly important, the role of books eventually broke down in the second half of the twentieth century. This pattern does not hold true for less developed regions where, due to the lack of efficient education, linguistic fragmentation, an overwhelmingly oral culture, and a structural different kind of knowledge, book production stagnated and no knowledge could be imported (for example via translated books).