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Five Puzzles in the Behaviour of Productivity, Investment and Innovation

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  • Gordon, Robert J

Abstract

Productivity growth in the United States was considerably faster during 2000-03 than in the boom years of 1995-2000. This ebullient productivity performance raises numerous questions about its interpretation and its implications for the future, and these are stated here in the form of five puzzles. (1) Whatever happened to the cyclical effect? Skeptics were justified on the basis of data through the end of 1999 in their claim that part of the post-1995 productivity growth revival reflected the normal cyclical correlation between productivity and output growth. In contrast, data through mid-2003 reveal only a negligible cyclical effect for 1995-99 but rather a temporary ‘bubble’ in 2002-03. (2) Why did productivity growth accelerate after 2000 when the ICT investment boom was collapsing? The most persuasive argument points to unusually savage corporate cost-cutting and ‘hidden’ intangible investments in the late 1990s that provided productivity benefits after 2000. (3) The steady decline in the price of computer power implies steady technical progress, but then why did computers produce so little productivity growth before 1995 and so much afterwards? We draw an analogy to electricity, where miniaturization was the key step in making small electric motors practicable, and the internal combustion engine, where complementary investments, especially roads, were necessary to reap benefits. (4) What does the collapse of the investment boom imply about the future of innovation? First-rate inventions in the 1990s, notably the web and user-friendly business productivity software, are being followed by second-rate inventions in the current decade. (5) Finally, why did productivity growth slow down in Europe but accelerate in the US? A consensus is emerging that US institutions foster creative destruction and financial markets that welcome innovation, while Europe remains under the control of corporatist institutions that dampen competition and inhibit new entry. Further, Europe lacks a youth culture like that of the US which fosters independence: US teenagers work after school and college students must work to pay for much of their educational expense. There is a chasm of values across the Atlantic.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 4414.

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Date of creation: Jun 2004
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4414

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Keywords: innovation; national advantage; productivity; research; retail trade;

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References

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  1. C.J. Krizan & John Haltiwanger & Lucia Foster, 2002. "The Link Between Aggregate and Micro Productivity Growth: Evidence from Retail Trade," Working Papers 02-18, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  2. Paul A. David & Gavin Wright, 1999. "Early Twentieth Century Productivity Growth Dynamics: An Inquiry into the Economic History of "Our Ignorance"," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _033, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  3. Eric Bartelsman & Andrea Bassanini & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Stefano Scarpetta & Thorsten Schank, 2002. "The Spread of ICT and Productivity Growth: Is Europe Really Lagging Behind in the New Economy?," Working Papers halshs-00289168, HAL.
  4. Eric Bartelsman & Andrea Bassanini & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Stefano Scarpetta & Thorsten Schank, 2002. "The Spread of ICT and Productivity Growth: Is Europe Really Lagging Behind in the New Economy?," CEPN Working Papers halshs-00289168, HAL.
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Cited by:
  1. Edge, Rochelle M. & Laubach, Thomas & Williams, John C., 2007. "Learning and shifts in long-run productivity growth," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(8), pages 2421-2438, November.
  2. Jinghai Zheng & Angang Hu & Arne Bigsten, 2009. "Potential output in a rapidly developing economy: the case of China and a comparison with the United States and the European Union," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jul, pages 317-342.
  3. Chellaraj, Gnanaraj & Maskus, Keith E. & Mattoo, Aaditya, 2005. "The contribution of skilled immigration and international graduate students to U.S. innovation," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3588, The World Bank.
  4. Harold Creusen & Björn Vroomen & Henry van der Wiel & Fred Kuypers, 2006. "Dutch retail trade on the rise? Relation between competition, innovation and productivity," CPB Document 137, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
  5. Theodore M. Mitrakos & Georgios Th Simigiannis & Panagiota G. Tzamourani, 2005. "Indebtedness of Greek households: evidence from a survey," Economic Bulletin, Bank of Greece, Economic Research Department, issue 25, pages 13-35, AUgust.
  6. Dostie, Benoit & Trépanier, Mathieu, 2005. "Returns to Computer Use and Organizational Practices of the Firm," IZA Discussion Papers 1541, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Alessandro Rebucci & Nicoletta Batini & Pietro Cova & Massimiliano Pisani, 2009. "Global Imbalances: The Role of Non-TradableTotal Factor Productivity in Advanced Economies," IMF Working Papers 09/63, International Monetary Fund.
  8. Andrea Bonaccorsi & Lucia Piscitello & Cristina Rossi, 2005. "Explaining The Territorial Adoption Of New Technologies - A Spatial Econometric Approach," ERSA conference papers ersa05p92, European Regional Science Association.

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