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General purpose technologies in theory, application and controversy: a review

Author

Listed:
  • Clifford Bekar

    () (Lewis and Clark University)

  • Kenneth Carlaw

    () (University of British Columbia – Okanagan)

  • Richard Lipsey

    () (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract

Distinguishing characteristics of General Purpose Technologies (GPTs) are identified and definitions discussed. Our definition includes multipurpose and single-purpose technologies, defining them according to their micro-technological characteristics, not their macro-economic effects. Identifying technologies as GPTs requires recognizing their evolutionary nature, and accepting possible uncertainties concerning marginal cases. Many of the existing ‘tests’ of whether particular technologies are GPTs are based on misunderstandings either of what GPT theory predicts or what such tests can establish. The development of formal GPT theories is outlined, showing that only the early theories predicted the inevitability of GPT-induced showdown and surges. More recent GPT theories, designed to model the characteristics of GPTs, do not imply the necessity of specific macro effects. We show that GPTs can rejuvenate the growth process without causing slowdowns or surges. We conclude that existing criticisms of GPT theory can be resolved and that the concept remains useful for economic theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Clifford Bekar & Kenneth Carlaw & Richard Lipsey, 2018. "General purpose technologies in theory, application and controversy: a review," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 28(5), pages 1005-1033, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:joevec:v:28:y:2018:i:5:d:10.1007_s00191-017-0546-0
    DOI: 10.1007/s00191-017-0546-0
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    Cited by:

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    2. Frolov, Daniil, 2019. "Блокчейн и институциональная сложность: постинституционализм vs. неоинституционализм," MPRA Paper 95963, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Christiaan Hogendorn & Brett Frischmann, 2020. "Infrastructure and general purpose technologies: a technology flow framework," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 50(3), pages 469-488, December.
    4. Frolov, Daniil, 2019. "Постинституциональная Теория Блокчейна: Трансакционная Ценность И Ассамбляжи [Post-Institutional Theory of Blockchain: Transaction Value and Assemblages]," MPRA Paper 95962, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    General purpose technologies; Technological change; Patents; Slowdowns; Surges; Growth theories; Productivity;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models

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