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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Gordon, Robert J, 2004. "Five Puzzles in the Behaviour of Productivity, Investment and Innovation," CEPR Discussion Papers 4414, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4414
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Lucia Foster & John Haltiwanger & C.J. Krizan, 2002. "The Link Between Aggregate and Micro Productivity Growth: Evidence from Retail Trade," NBER Working Papers 9120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    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?," CEPN Working Papers halshs-00289168, HAL.
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    Cited by:

    1. Raquel Ortega-Argilés & Mariacristina Piva & Marco Vivarelli, 2014. "The transatlantic productivity gap: Is R&D the main culprit?," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 47(4), pages 1342-1371, November.
    2. 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.
    3. Jerzmanowski, Michal & Nabar, Malhar, 2008. "The welfare consequences of irrational exuberance: Stock market booms, research investment, and productivity," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 111-133, March.
    4. Raquel Ortega-Argilés, 2012. "The Transatlantic Productivity Gap: A Survey Of The Main Causes," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(3), pages 395-419, July.
    5. 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.
    6. Benoit Dostie & Mathieu Trépanier, 2004. "Return to Computer Use and Organizational Practices of the firm," Cahiers de recherche 04-06, HEC Montréal, Institut d'économie appliquée.
    7. Andrea Bonaccorsi & Lucia Piscitello & Cristina Rossi, 2007. "Explaining the Territorial Adoption of New Technologies: A Spatial Econometric Approach," Chapters,in: Applied Evolutionary Economics and Economic Geography, chapter 12 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. 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.
    9. Shahid Yusuf & Kaoru Nabeshima & Shoichi Yamashita, 2008. "Growing Industrial Clusters in Asia : Serendipity and Science," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 6429.
    10. Hartwig Jochen, 2006. "Messprobleme bei der Ermittlung des Wachstums der Arbeitsproduktivität - dargestellt anhand eines Vergleichs der Schweiz mit den USA / Measurement Problems with Respect to Labour Productivity Growth -," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 226(4), pages 418-435, August.
    11. Theodore M. Mitrakos & Georgios Th Simigiannis & Panagiota G. Tzamourani, 2005. "Indebtedness of Greek households: evidence from a survey," Economic Bulletin, Bank of Greece, issue 25, pages 13-35, AUgust.
    12. Mattalia, Claudio, 2013. "Embodied technological change and technological revolution: Which sectors matter?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 249-264.
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. Bas Jacobs & Jules Theeuwes, 2005. "Innovation in the Netherlands: the Market Falters and the Government Fails," De Economist, Springer, vol. 153(1), pages 107-124, December.

    More about this item

    Keywords

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

    JEL classification:

    • A10 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - General
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General

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