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Understanding Digital Technology’s Evolution and the Path of Measured Productivity Growth: Present and Future in the Mirror of the Past

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  • Paul A. David

    (Stanford University & All Souls College, Oxford)

Abstract

Three styles of explanation have been advanced by economists seeking to account for the so-called 'productivity paradox'. The coincidence of a persisting slowdown in the growth of measured total factor productivity (TFP) in the US, since the mid-1970's, with the wave of information technology (It) innovations, is said by some to be an illusion due to the mismeasurement of real output growth; by others to expose the mistaken expectations about the benefits of computerization; and by still others to reflect the amount of time, and the volume of intangible investments in 'learning', and the time required for ancillary innovations that allow the new digital technologies to be applied in ways that are reflected in measured productivity growth. This paper shows that rather than viewing these as competing hypotheses, the dynamics of the transition to a new technological and economic regime based upon a general purpose technology (GPT) should be understood to be likely to give rise to all three 'effects.' It more fully articulates and supports this thesis, which was first advanced in the 'computer and dynamo' papers by David (1990, 1991). The relevance of that historical experience is re-asserted and supported by further evidence rebutting skeptics who have argued that the diffusion of electrification and computerization have little in common. New evidence is produced about the links between IT use, mass customization, and the upward bias of output price deflators arising from the method used to 'chain in' new products prices. The measurement bias due to the exclusion of intangible investments from the scope of the official national product accounts also is examined. Further, it is argued that the development of the general-purpose PC delayed the re-organization of businesses along lines that would have more directly raised task productivity, even though the technologies yielded positive 'revenue productivity' gains for large companies. The paper concludes by indicating the emerging technical and organizational developments that are likely to deliver a sustained surge of measured TFP growth during the decades that lie immediately ahead.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Macroeconomics with number 0502022.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: 10 Feb 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:0502022

Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 28
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Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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  1. Martin Neil Baily & Robert J. Gordon, 1988. "The Productivity Slowdown, Measurement Issues, and the Explosion of Computer Power," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 347-432.
  2. Robert Gordon, 1995. "Problems in the Measurement and Performance of Service-Sector Productivity in the United States," RBA Annual Conference Volume, in: Palle Andersen & Jacqueline Dwyer & David Gruen (ed.), Productivity and Growth Reserve Bank of Australia.
  3. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1998. "The Origins Of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(3), pages 693-732, August.
  4. W. Erwin Diewert & Kevin J. Fox, 1999. "Can measurement error explain the productivity paradox?," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 32(2), pages 251-280, April.
  5. Brynjolfsson, Erik. & Hitt, Lorin M., 1995. "Paradox lost? : firm-level evidence on the returns to information systems spending," Working papers 3786-95., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  6. Abramovitz, Moses & David, Paul A, 1973. "Reinterpreting Economic Growth: Parables and Realities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(2), pages 428-39, May.
  7. W. Michael Cox & Roy J. Ruffin, 1998. "What should economists measure? The implications of mass production vs. mass customization," Working Papers 9803, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
  8. W. Michael Cox & Richard Alm, 1998. "The right stuff: America's move to mass customization," Annual Report, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, pages 3-26.
  9. Paul David & Gavin Wright, 1999. "General Purpose Technologies and Surges in Productivity: Historical Reflections on the Future of the ICT Revolution," Economics Series Working Papers 1999-W31, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  10. Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2000. "Beyond Computation: Information Technology, Organizational Transformation and Business Performance," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 23-48, Fall.
  11. Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin Hitt, 1997. "Paradox Lost? Firm-level Evidence of High Returns to Information Systems Spending," Working Paper Series 162, MIT Center for Coordination Science.
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Cited by:
  1. Nirvikar Singh, 2004. "Information Technology and India’s Economic Development," Development and Comp Systems 0412007, EconWPA.
  2. Paul A. David, 2005. "Productivity growth prospects and the new economy in historical perspective," Economic History 0502005, EconWPA.
  3. Matteo Bugamelli & Patrizio Pagano & Francesco Paternò & Alberto Franco Pozzolo & Fabiano Schivardi & Salvatore Rossi, 2001. "Ingredients for the New Economy: How Much does finance matter?," Temi di discussione (Economic working papers) 418, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  4. Simona Iammarino & Cecilia Jona-Lasini & Susanna Mantegazza, 2004. "Labour productivity, ICT and regions: The revival of Italian “dualism”?," SPRU Working Paper Series 127, SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex.
  5. Boyer, Robert, 2001. "La "nouvelle économie" au futur antérieur : histoire, théories, géographie," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 0113, CEPREMAP.
  6. Mauro Napoletano & Jean-Luc Gaffard, 2009. "Country Size, Appropriate Policy, and Economic Performance: Some Evidence from OECD Countries," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2009-08, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
  7. Sandro Sapio & Grid Thoma, 2006. "The Growth of Industrial Sectors: Theoretical Insights and Empirical Evidence from U.S. Manufacturing," LEM Papers Series 2006/09, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
  8. Paul A. David, 2001. "An Introduction to the Economy of the Knowledge Society," Economics Series Working Papers 84, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  9. Consoli, Davide & Patrucco, Pier Paolo & Quatraro, Francesco, 2006. "Un'Analisi Comparata delle Performance Tecnologiche nel Nord-Ovest Sabaudo nel Lungo Periodo nel Contesto delle RegioniItaliane: Gli Anni 1980-2001," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis LEI & BRICK - Laboratory of Economics of Innovation "Franco Momigliano", Bureau of Research in Innovation, Complexity and Knowledge, Collegio 200605, University of Turin.
  10. Carolina Castaldi & Giovanni Dosi, 2008. "Technical Change and Economic Growth: Some Lessons from Secular Patterns and Some Conjectures on the Current Impact of ICT Technology," LEM Papers Series 2008/01, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
  11. Takase, Kae & Murota, Yasuhiro, 2004. "The impact of IT investment on energy: Japan and US comparison in 2010," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(11), pages 1291-1301, July.
  12. Hiroshi Ohashi, 2003. "Econometric analysis of price index for home video cassette recorders in the U.S., 1978-1987," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(2), pages 179-197.
  13. Alan Hughes & Michael S Scott Morton, 2005. "ICT and productivity growth - the paradox resolved?," ESRC Centre for Business Research - Working Papers wp316, ESRC Centre for Business Research.
  14. Carolina Castaldi & Sandro Sapio, 2008. "Growing like mushrooms? Sectoral evidence from four large European economies," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 509-527, August.
  15. Boyer, Robert, 2001. "L'économiste face aux innovations qui font époque : les relations entre histoire et théorie," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Couverture Orange) 0112, CEPREMAP.

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