Learning by Doing and Plant Characteristics
Learning by doing, especially spillover learning, has received much attention lately in models of industry evolution and economic growth. The predictions of these models depend on the distribution of learning abilities and knowledge flows across firms and countries. However, the empirical literature provides little guidance on these issues. In this paper, I use plant level data on a sample of entrants in SIC 38, Instruments, to examine the characteristics associated with both proprietary and spillover learning by doing. The plant level data permit tests for the relative importance of within and between firm spillovers. I include both formal knowledge, obtained through R&D expenditures, and informal knowledge, obtained through learning by doing, in a production function framework. I allow the speed of learning to vary across plants according to characteristics such as R&D intensity, wages, and the skill mix. The results suggest that (a) Ainformal@ knowledge, accumulated through production experience at the plant, is a much more important source of productivity growth for these plants than is Aformal@ knowledge gained via research and development expenditures, (b) interfirm spillovers are stronger than intrafirm spillovers, (c) the slope of the own learning curve is positively related to worker quality, (d) the slope of the spillover learning curve is positively related to the skill mix at plants, (e) neither own nor spillover learning curve slopes are related to R&D intensities. These results imply that learning by doing may be, to some extent, an endogenous phenomenon at these plants. Thus, models of industry evolution that incorporate learning by doing may need to be revised. The results are also broadly consistent with the recent growth models.
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