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Does the 'New Economy' Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past?

  • Gordon, Robert J

Many observers have declared the ‘New Economy’ to be an Industrial Revolution even more important than the Second Industrial Revolution of 1860-1900, and this Paper raises doubts about this comparison. It shows that the recent acceleration in productivity growth in the US economy can be attributed to a technological acceleration within durable manufacturing and to increased investment in computers in the rest of the economy. But there has been no acceleration of trend growth in US multi-factor productivity in the 88% of the economy outside of durable manufacturing. In comparison with the Great Inventions of 1860-1900, the ‘New Economy’ falls short. The rapid decline in the cost of computer power means that the marginal utility of computer characteristics like speed and memory has fallen rapidly as well, implying that the greatest contributions of computers lie in the past, not in the future. The Internet fails as a Great Invention because much of its use involves substitution of existing activities from one medium to another, because much Internet investment involves defence of market share rather than creation of something of social value, because much Internet activity duplicates existing activity like mail order catalogues, while the latter have not faded away, and finally because much Internet activity, like daytime e-trading, involves an increase in the fraction of work time involving consumption on the job.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 2607.

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Date of creation: Nov 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:2607
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  1. Basu, Susanto, 1996. "Procyclical Productivity: Increasing Returns or Cyclical Utilization?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(3), pages 719-51, August.
  2. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 1997. "The NAIRU, Unemployment and Monetary Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 33-49, Winter.
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  7. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Sharon M. Oster, 1998. "Tools or Toys? The Impact of High Technology on Scholarly Productivity," NBER Working Papers 6761, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Dudley, L., 1996. "Communication and Economic Growth," Cahiers de recherche 9620, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative, CIREQ.
  9. Robert J. Gordon, 1998. "Foundations of the Goldilocks Economy: Supply Shocks and the Time-Varying NAIRU," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(2), pages 297-346.
  10. Robert J. Gordon, 1997. "The Time-Varying NAIRU and Its Implications for Economic Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 11-32, Winter.
  11. Robert J. Gordon, 1993. "The Jobless Recovery: Does It Signal a New Era of Productivity-led Growth?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 24(1), pages 271-316.
  12. Joel Mokyr, 1997. "Are we living in the middle of an Industrial Revolution?," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, issue Q II, pages 31-43.
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  15. Robert J. Gordon, 1999. "U.S. Economic Growth since 1870: One Big Wave?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 123-128, May.
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  19. Thor Hultgren, 1960. "Changes in Labor Cost During Cycles in Production and Business," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number hult60-1, July.
  20. Robert J. Gordon, 2000. "Interpreting the "One Big Wave" in U.S. Long-Term Productivity Growth," NBER Working Papers 7752, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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