Productivity and Innovation

Stephen Cecchetti, Kim Schoenholtz, 22 February 2018

Investment is shifting from tangible physical assets to intangible goods like software, data, and R&D. This column analyses the impact of this shift on the structure of firm financing. The financial system’s shift from public to private equity is, on the whole, an encouraging reflection of its response to the changing needs of the economy.

Anna Stansbury, Lawrence H. Summers, 20 February 2018

Since 1973, there has been divergence between labour productivity and the typical worker’s pay in the US as productivity has continued to grow strongly and growth in average compensation has slowed substantially. This column explores the causes and implications of this trend. Productivity growth appears to have continued to push workers’ wages up, with other factors to blame for the divergence. The evidence casts doubt on the idea that rapid technological progress is the primary driver here, suggesting rather that institutional and structural factors are to blame.

Daisuke Fujii, Yukiko Saito, Tatsuro Senga, 10 February 2018

Firms develop inter-firm networks throughout their lifecycles, continually adding and dropping trading partners. This column examines the role that the dynamics of these networks play in firm growth. The findings point to the importance of searching for potential trading partners and learning match-specific productivity for younger firms. Surviving older firms, in contrast, tend to enjoy a stable set of customers and suppliers to keep their operations.

Morgan Kelly, Cormac Ó Gráda, 27 January 2018

The consensus among economic (but not maritime) historians that maritime technology was more or less stagnant for 300 years until iron steamships appeared in the mid-19th century is largely based on indirect measures, such as changes in the cost of shipping freight or the length of voyages. This column instead looks directly at how the speed of ships in different winds improved over time. The speed of British ships rose by around half between 1750 and 1830 (albeit from a low base) thanks to innovations like the copper plating of hulls and the move from wooden to iron joints and bolts.

Alessandro Iaria, Carlo Schwarz, Fabian Waldinger, 26 January 2018

Access to existing knowledge fuels basic scientific progress and is key to the development of new technologies. This column studies how the decline in scientific cooperation that occurred during and after WWI affected science and innovation. The interruption of international knowledge flows led to stark declines in both the volume and quality of scientific production. This points to the merits of opening up access to scientific journals and of discerning what constitutes frontier research.

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