Productivity and Innovation

Laurence Kotlikoff, 19 February 2020

The US has spent the entire post-war period running a massive and ever-growing Ponzi scheme that takes from the young and gives to the old. This column discusses how the scheme has been and is being run by expanding take-as-you-go-financed Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid systems, by running huge official deficits, and by imposing a larger share of taxes on the young and a smaller share on the old. Take as you go, whether done on or off the books, has done precisely as theoretically predicted – reduced the US’s national saving rate from 13% in the 1950s and 1960s to 3% in the last two decades. This underlies, in large part, a commensurate drop in the domestic investment rate, which was also 13% between 1950 and 1969 and is now running at 4%. The textbook predicted consequence? Lower median labour productivity and median real wage growth.

Toby Phillips, 05 February 2020

In richer developed nations almost 90% of people are online, but this number is less than 20% in the least-developed countries. This column presents the Pathways for Prosperity Commission’s final report, which offers pragmatic suggestions to help developing countries make the most of technological change. It proposes a ‘digital compact’, with countries working towards a shared vision for the future crafted with the input of industry, civil society, and other national leaders.

William Kerr, 31 January 2020

Why are cities so keen to create their own technology clusters, and why is it so difficult? Bill Kerr of Harvard Business School tells Tim Phillips what economists know (and don't know) about where tech clusters come from

Walker Hanlon, Taylor Jaworski, 31 January 2020

The slowing pace of economic growth in the US and Europe have rekindled fears of reduced innovation and prompted calls for institutional changes meant to increase returns on spending for research and development. This column uses the case of the US interwar aircraft industry to suggest some unforeseen hazards of such change. It recommends considering the design of innovation and antitrust policy in tandem, especially where attempts to provide incentives for innovation may alter the extent of competition and endogenously reconfigure market structure.

Enghin Atalay, Phai Phongthiengtham, Sebastian Sotelo, Daniel Tannenbaum, 23 January 2020

Since the late 20th century, middle-wage occupations have shrunk as a share of total employment, while occupations requiring social and analytic tasks have grown. However, little is known about the degree to which individual occupations or job titles have changed over time and the extent to which these changes have been driven by new technologies. Analysing approximately 8.7 million job ads published in newspapers during 1940–2000, this column finds that non-routine analytic and interactive tasks in jobs increased, while manual tasks declined. The majority of changes have occurred within rather than between occupations. New technologies are linked to increased intensity of non-routine analytic job tasks.

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