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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

  • David, P.A.

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."

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Paper provided by United Nations World Employment Programme- in its series Papers with number 99-011.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fth:unwoem:99-011
Contact details of provider: Postal: International Center for Economic Growth, 243 Kearny Street, San Francisco, California 94108.

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  1. Paul A. David & Gavin Wright, 1999. "General Purpose Technologies and Surges in Productivity: Historical Reflections on the Future of the ICT Revolution," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _031, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  2. 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.
  3. Robert J. Gordon, 1996. "Problems in the Measurement and Performance of Service-Sector Productivity in the United States," NBER Working Papers 5519, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
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