The impact of immigration on US economic development has become a controversial issue in recent policy debates. This column, arising from a study linking Federal Census data with patent records, examines the historical role of immigrant inventors in the process of US technological innovation. Immigrant inventors appear to have been of central importance to American innovation during the 19th and 20th centuries, both through their own inventive activity and through their influence on domestic inventors.
Ufuk Akcigit, John Grigsby, Tom Nicholas, 27 March 2017
William Maloney, Felipe Valencia Caicedo, 24 March 2017
The generation and diffusion of scientific knowledge and technology are assumed to be drivers of modern economic growth, but there is a lack of firm empirical evidence of this. This column uses the first detailed data on the density of engineers in the western hemisphere to argue that historical differences in innovative capacity, as captured by the density of engineers in 1880, explain a significant fraction of the Great Divergence. The results confirm the imperative of developing higher-order human capital.
David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon Hanson, Gary P. Pisano, Pian Shu, 20 March 2017
The discussion of the decline in US manufacturing during the 2016 presidential election campaign largely focused on job losses. This column examines the effects of Chinese import competition on another metric for the health of the US manufacturing sector – innovation. Firms whose industries were exposed to a greater surge of Chinese import competition from 1991 to 2007 experienced a significant decline in their patent output as well as their R&D expenditures. While politicians’ ‘obsession’ with manufacturing is primarily due to job losses, an accompanying reduction in innovation may well affect economic growth in the longer term.
Martin Watzinger, Thomas Fackler, Markus Nagler, Monika Schnitzer, 19 February 2017
There is growing concern that dominant companies use patents strategically to keep competitors from entering their market. This column uses the landmark 1956 Consent Decree against Bell Labs to explore whether antitrust enforcement is an effective remedy to the problem. Results show that patents can indeed be used as an entry barrier for start-up firms, and that the compulsory licensing of patents can foster market entry and innovation. However, compulsory licensing is found to be ineffective in markets where dominant firms have other means of market foreclosure.
Ufuk Akcigit, John Grigsby, Tom Nicholas, 02 February 2017
A pressing issue facing policymakers around the globe today is how to generate long-term economic growth through technological innovation. Using a new dataset that matches 19th and 20th century patent records with census data, this column attempts to shed some light on the ‘golden age’ of US innovation. Population density and financial development are found to be important determinants of state innovativeness, while education appears to be the critical input at the individual level. These findings have important implications for innovation policy today.
Biagio Bossone, 25 January 2017
Electronic money – digital payment instruments that store value – can be seen simply as a technological innovation for holding and accessing regular money. This column argues that how it is used and regulated will determine whether e-money instead serves as a replacement for existing money, and discusses the regulatory implications.
Daron Acemoglu, Ufuk Akcigit, William Kerr, 20 January 2017
Innovation is typically seen as a cumulative process, with new technologies building on existing knowledge - but our knowledge of how progress in a specific area is influenced by knowledge in other, ‘upstream’ areas is limited. Using US patent data, this column identifies a stable ‘innovation network’ that serves as a conduit for cumulative knowledge development. Technological advances in one field can advance progress in multiple neighbouring fields, but will have a stronger influence on more closely related areas.
Susan Helper, Jennifer Kuan, 20 December 2016
Innovation is often associated with a few visionaries working in new and dynamic industries. In practice, however, critical innovation occurs daily at many points throughout a supply chain. This column uses recent survey data to examine innovation in the US automotive supply chain. Process innovations can have major downstream benefits, and ‘collaborative creativity’ between suppliers and customers is found to be critical in innovation efforts. US automakers should focus on strengthening ties with their suppliers in order to remain competitive.
Klaus Desmet, Dávid Krisztián Nagy, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 30 November 2016
Recent political events have highlighted a growing anti-globalisation sentiment, evident in scepticism towards free trade and resistance to immigration. However, existing analyses focus on short-term, local effects. Using global data, this column takes account of the complex relations between trade, migration, innovation, and growth. Liberal trade and immigration stances are found to have positive effects on global output. The results suggest that globalisation remains a tremendously powerful engine of growth.
Federica Coelli, Andreas Moxnes, Karen-Helene Ulltveit-Moe, 21 November 2016
Free trade is under fire, with evidence documenting the distributional impacts and labour adjustment costs of trade liberalisation mounting. This column instead presents new evidence on the benefits of freer trade in terms of growth and innovation. It points to gains that could be lost if support for globalisation is not maintained.
Emmanuele Bobbio, 05 November 2016
Tax evasion imposes substantial costs on economies around the world. Beyond equity concerns, it erodes the tax base, with indirect effects on public investment and service provision. This column uses a model calibrated on the Italian economy to assess the direct and indirect effects of tax evasion on economic growth. Enforcing taxes would force small businesses to innovate, putting pressure on larger businesses and clearing the market of poorly performing small firms. Tackling tax evasion is thus important not only for equity reasons, but also for efficiency.
Lars Boerner, Battista Severgnini, 10 October 2016
The public mechanical clock, which first appeared in European cities in the late 13th century, was one of the most important innovations in history. This column looks at the impact on growth of the arrival of this general purpose technology. European cities that were quick to install mechanical clocks enjoyed greater growth than late adopters. However, it takes some time for the effects from fundamental innovations of this type to be realised because the technology must be accepted both culturally and socially and then applied to related economic activities.
Ian Goldin, Chris Kutarna, 04 October 2016
Some economists see currently faltering GDP growth as part of a longer-term trend for advanced economies, reflecting their belief that the bulk of technological innovation is now behind humankind. This column argues that neither history nor the present-day pace of scientific discovery supports the notion of diminishing returns to technological innovation. The challenge for growth economists is that analytic models are poorly suited to capturing and setting society’s expectations for these impending disruptions.
Monika Schnitzer, 30 September 2016
How do patents affect innovation? In this video, Monika Schnitzer uses the example of Bell labs to explain how compulsory licensing leads to more innovation. This video was recorded during the European Economic Association's Congress held in Geneva at the end of August 2016.
James Bessen, 22 September 2016
A popular notion is that computer automation leads to major job losses. However, this ignores the dynamic economic responses that involve both changing demand and inter-occupation substitution. Using US data, this column explores the effect of automation on employment growth for detailed occupational categories. Computer-using occupations have had greater job growth to date, while those using few computers suffer greater computer-related losses. The real challenge posed by automation is developing a workforce with the skills to use new technologies.
Fabrizio Zilibotti, 21 September 2016
Can China shift to innovation-led growth after decades of investment-led growth? In this video, Fabrizio Zilibotti presents his research on what China could do and the implications for the rest of the world. This video was recorded during the European Economic Association's Congress held in Geneva at the end of August 2016.
Philippe Aghion, Ufuk Akcigit, Julia Cagé, William Kerr, 29 August 2016
The relationship between taxation and economic growth is complex, and relies in large part on the efficiency with which taxes are used. This column examines the impact of corruption on this relationship. The boost to welfare from reducing corruption is substantially larger than the marginal gains from optimising the tax rate for an existing level of government efficiency.
Charles Angelucci, Julia Cagé, 26 August 2016
Advertisers are deserting newspapers. Using the impact of television advertising on print media in 1968, this column argues that a reduction in advertising revenues will reduce the quality of newspapers. Ultimately, this may result in a less well-informed public.
Nobuya Fukugawa, Akira Goto, 08 July 2016
Local public technology centres (Kosetsushi) in Japan have demonstrated notable success in fostering the development of regional industries. This column reports the results of the first branch-level survey of Kosetsushi, focusing on three areas: manufacturing, foods, and design. Kosetsushi are found to help clients through diverse, tailored technical consultations and, increasingly, by acting as a network hub for the transfer of symbolic and analytical knowledge. These findings have particular relevance for regional governments attempting to foster innovation through similar institutions.
Daron Acemoglu, Pascual Restrepo, 05 July 2016
Many economists throughout history have been proven wrong in predicting that technological progress will cause irreversible damage to the labour market. This column shows that so far, the labour market has always adapted to the replacement of jobs with capital, using evidence of new types of skilled jobs between 1970 and 2007. As long as the rate of automation of jobs by machines and the creation of new complex tasks for workers are balanced, there will be no major labour market decline. The nature of new technology, and its impact on future innovation potential, has important implications for labour stability.