Xavi Cirera, Diego Comin, Marcio Cruz, Kyung Min Lee, 29 November 2020

Understanding how firms use technology in production is key for studying productivity and labour market outcomes. This column introduces a new approach to measure technology adoption at the business function level – the Firm-level Adoption of Technology survey. Using representative data from three countries, it finds a larger variance in technology sophistication within firms compared with across firms, and greater variance across firms than across countries or regions. Furthermore, a development accounting exercise suggests cross-firm technology differences account for one-third of the cross-firm productivity gap. 

Tommaso Bighelli, Filippo di Mauro, Marc Melitz, Matthias Mertens, 13 October 2020

Aggregate firm concentration has increased in Europe in the last decade. Using firm-level data, this column shows that concentration is positively associated with productivity at the sector level. As a result, rising concentration should not be viewed as conclusive evidence of a weak competitive environment and need not necessarily be a cause for concern. Rather, rising concentration may be a reflection of more efficient market processes. This has important consequences for industrial and antitrust policy, which must carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of increasing concentration.

Sebastian Doerr, Dalia Marin, Davide Suverato, Thierry Verdier, 19 August 2020

A well-established observation in the trade literature is that conglomerate firms are more productive than single-product firms, but this appears to be at odds with findings in the finance literature that multi-segment firms trade at a discount and have lower Tobin’s Q than single-product firms, because internal capital markets misallocate funds across divisions within firms. This column develops a novel theory of misallocation within firms (rather than between firms) due to managers' empire building. Introducing an internal capital market into a two-factor model of multi-segment firms, it shows that more open markets impose discipline on competition for capital within firms, which explains why exporters exhibit a lower conglomerate discount than non-exporters. Testing the model with data on US companies, the authors establish that import competition reduces mis-allocation within firms. A one standard deviation increase in Chinese imports lowers the conglomerate discount by 32% and over-reporting of costs by up to 15%.

Eiichi Tomiura, Banri Ito, Byeongwoo Kang, 12 August 2020

Cross-border data flows are increasingly critical for modern firms, and the regulation of data poses a distinctly novel challenge for policymakers in the 21st century. This column presents survey data from Japan, investigating exactly which type of firm are most likely to be affected by regulations surrounding the international exchange of data. The results of the study suggest that new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and 3D printers are usually adopted by the most productive and innovative firms, and that hampering these firms with regulation may create harmful effects for the wider economy.

Charles Goodhart, Dimitri Tsomocos, Xuan Wang, 07 August 2020

A sizeable proportion of enterprises, especially SMEs, in receipt of financial assistance from the government will fail to repay. This column asks whether, and to what extent, it may be beneficial to apply a screening mechanism to deter those mostly likely to fail to repay from seeking financial assistance in the first place. The answer largely turns on the relative weights attached for the objectives of stabilisation as compared with allocative efficiency.

Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, Robert Inklaar, 31 July 2020

Modern economic growth has improved the lives of millions in an unprecedented way, but its unequal progression across the globe has resulted in high income inequality. Most of the cross-country differences in income levels are typically attributed to differences in productivity rather than to physical or human capital accumulation. This column argues that this has not always been the case: physical capital accounted for a much larger fraction of income variation at the beginning of the 20th century. More generally, the results of the study call for a reevaluation of the long-term determinants of relative economic performance over time.

Alex Bartik, Zoe Cullen, Edward Glaeser, Michael Luca, Christopher Stanton, 19 July 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has necessitated a rise in remote working, but many challenges to its broader adoption remain. This column uses survey data from thousands of small businesses representing a wide set of industries, firm sizes, and regions across the US to understand how businesses are adjusting to the crisis. It finds that transition to remote working is uneven, with businesses in industries with higher income and better educated employees more likely to transition to remote working. Productivity effects are also uneven, with many firms becoming less productive as a result of the transition.

Filippo di Mauro, 10 July 2020

In the recovery from Covid-19 we urgently need to boost productivity. But which policies move the needle? Filippo di Mauro tells Tim Phillips about what CompNet's firm-level productivity data tells us about both the problem and the solution.

Felix Kersting, Iris Wohnsiedler, Nikolaus Wolf, 11 July 2020

Max Weber famously hypothesised that the Protestant work ethic fostered modern economic development. Does religion matter for economic success? This column revisits Weber’s hypothesis in the context of 19th-century Prussia. Protestantism did not matter for savings, literacy rates, or income levels across Prussian counties after 1870. Instead, there are large differences between ethnic groups, likely due to ethnic discrimination. Nationalism must be taken into account to understand Weber’s writings.

Kaoru Hosono, Miho Takizawa, Kenta Yamanouchi, 21 June 2020

How do firms grow as they age after establishment? What drives high growth rates for young firms? Using a large dataset from Japan for the period from 1995 to 2015, this column argues that the accumulation of intangible capital plays a significant role in the growth of physical productivity, which, in turn, accounts for a major part of sales growth as firms age. Of the three types of intangible capital – organisational capital, software, and R&D stocks – organisational capital explains a large part of the sales growth.

Alexia Delfino, Raffaella Sadun, 04 May 2020

As businesses emerge from lockdown, they will face the challenge of adopting new health and safety standards while maintaining profitability and productivity. Effective management will be crucial in aligning these private and social interests. This column explores how structured management training programmes – modelled after support given to European firms under the Marshall Plan – can help firms operate safely and productively in the Covid-19 era. It outlines several principles policymakers should follow in the design and implementation of these training programmes.

Liudmila Alekseeva, José Azar, Mireia Gine, Sampsa Samila, Bledi Taska, 03 May 2020

Artificial intelligence will transform job tasks and occupations. This column uses data from US online job postings during 2010–2019 to show how absolute and relative demand for AI-related skills has grown across all industry sectors and occupation groups. Jobs requiring AI skills command, on average, an 11% wage premium compared to similar jobs that do not require AI knowledge. However, AI is at least as much a managerial challenge as it is a technological challenge. Real productivity gains will come only when there are managers who can use AI to create and capture value.

Uri Alon, Eran Yashiv, 27 April 2020

Countries are facing stark choices between ending the lockdown to revive people’s lives and risking the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. This column proposes an exit strategy from lockdown based on a vulnerability in the coronavirus transmission mechanism, i.e. the latent period in which most infected people do not infect others. An optimal work/lockdown cycle based on this weak spot could minimise infection risks while greatly improving the painful trade-offs faced by policymakers.

Teresa Barbieri, Gaetano Basso, Sergio Scicchitano, 27 April 2020

Many countries are now designing exit strategies from the sectoral lockdowns put in place to contain the outbreak of Covid-19. This column provides new evidence from Italy on the degree of workplace risk of exposure to the virus. Unsurprisingly, the health sector is the most exposed to diseases and infections, while the services sector is the most risky in terms of physical proximity. These and other findings can help in deciding which activities to reopen first and where to reinforce security measures.

Filippo di Mauro, Chad Syverson, 16 April 2020

The world went into the COVID crisis in the midst of a 15-year-long productivity growth slowdown. This column considers the channels through which the crisis might shift the growth rates of productivity and output. Globalisation, labour mobility and small firms may all fall victim to the crisis if the world does not succeed in reopening borders, refraining from trade and currency wars and focusing on policies to boost productivity. On the upside, the broad adoption of new technologies – such as IT skills during the epidemic – and strong reallocation pressures may provide an independent boost on productivity as we come out of the crisis.

Masayuki Morikawa, 10 April 2020

Japan, similar to many countries hit by the COVID-19 shock, has experienced a sudden increase in people working from home. This column exploits the teleworking arrangements implemented at the author’s workplace to investigate the impact on productivity. In a survey, workers indicate that they are, on average, less productive at home than in the office. While some of the reasons for this, such as lack of familiarity with remote access software, will fade over time, other factors suggest that a productivity gap will remain.

Natalie Bau, Adrien Matray, 16 March 2020

The misallocation of inputs, and in particular capital, may explain the large disparities in productivity across countries. This column exploits a policy in India in the early 2000s to quantify the effects of foreign capital liberalisation on misallocation and aggregate productivity in treated industries. As a result of the liberalisation policies, capital-constrained firms expanded their assets by 57%, spent more on labour (+27%), and increased their revenue by 25% relative to non-constrained firms. The effects of liberalisation were largest in areas with less developed local banking sectors.

Ethan Ilzetzki, 11 March 2020

The UK has seen slow rates of productivity growth over the past decade, with output per hour and real wages no higher today than they were prior to the global financial crisis. This column reveals how nearly half of leading economists surveyed by the Centre for Macroeconomics point to low demand due to the financial crisis, austerity policies and Brexit as a major cause for this productivity slowdown. Despite this diagnosis, only a small minority of the panel believes that the solution lies in demand-side policy. Instead, a majority support promoting productivity growth through investments in education and worker training. Other policies, such as infrastructure investments, and tax and regulatory policies are also proposed. 

Tim Besley, Isabelle Roland, John Van Reenen, 09 March 2020

Since the Global Crisis, there has been a renewed awareness of how frictions in credit markets can damage economic efficiency due to a higher cost of capital and/or capital being misallocated away from its most productive uses. This column presents a new methodological approach for calculating the cost of credit frictions which can be implemented with relatively simple data in multiple contexts. It finds that credit market frictions explain half of the fall in UK productivity in the Great Recession and depress output by 28% on average.

Ben Broadbent, Federico Di Pace, Thomas Drechsel, Richard Harrison, Silvana Tenreyro, 26 February 2020

The UK economy has experienced significant macroeconomic adjustments following the 2016 referendum on its withdrawal from the EU. This column documents these macroeconomic adjustments systematically and demonstrates that the effects of the referendum result on the UK economy can be conceptualised as news about a future slowdown in tradable productivity growth.


Vox Talks

CEPR Policy Research