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Prizes for Basic Research -- Human Capital, Economic Might and the Shadow of History

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  • Joshua Aizenman
  • Ilan Noy

Abstract

This paper studies the impact of several factors on the geographical distribution of basic scientific research across countries and time, and explains the dynamics of the process that has resulted in the United States becoming the undisputed leader in basic research. Our study is based on the records of major scientific awards, and on data dealing with global economic and historical trends. We investigate the degree to which scale or threshold effects account for the number of major prizes (Nobel, Fields, Kyoto, Wolf) won by different countries. We constructed a stylized model, predicting that lagged relative GDP of a country relative to the GDP of all countries engaging in basic research is an important explanatory variable of a country?s share of prizes. Scale effects imply that the association between the GDP share of a country and its prize share can be logistic -- above a certain threshold, there is a take-off range, where the prize share increases at an accelerating rate relative to the GDP share of the country, until it reaches "maturity" stage. Our empirical research findings confirm the importance of lagged relative GDP in accounting for a country's prize shares, and the presence of a "winner-takes-all" scale effect benefiting the leader. We found that U.S. basic research take-off started during the 1920s, with this research being done in the United States by U.S. scholars, prior to the immigration of scientists after Hitler's rise to power in Germany (1932-33). This is consistent with the notion that World War II set in motion forces that did not start, but hastened, the U.S. take-off, triggering immigration that contributed to the speed and intensity of U.S. research dominance. Using more recent data, we also documented the growing importance of countries that used to be at the periphery of global research, but are now possibly advancing towards the take-off stage.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua Aizenman & Ilan Noy, 2006. "Prizes for Basic Research -- Human Capital, Economic Might and the Shadow of History," NBER Working Papers 12226, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12226
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Salter, Ammon J. & Martin, Ben R., 2001. "The economic benefits of publicly funded basic research: a critical review," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 509-532, March.
    2. Andrew K. Rose, 2006. "Size Really Doesn't Matter: In Search of a National Scale Effect," NBER Working Papers 12191, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Donald R. Davis & David E. Weinstein, 2008. "A Search For Multiple Equilibria In Urban Industrial Structure," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(1), pages 29-65.
    4. Paul Krugman, 1991. "History versus Expectations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 651-667.
    5. Rose, Andrew K., 2006. "Size really doesn't matter: In search of a national scale effect," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 482-507, December.
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    7. Benjamin F. Jones, 2005. "Age and Great Invention," NBER Working Papers 11359, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Bruce A. Weinberg & David W. Galenson, 2005. "Creative Careers: The Life Cycles of Nobel Laureates in Economics," NBER Working Papers 11799, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Paul A. David, 2007. "Path Dependence, its Critics, and the Quest for ‘Historical Economics’," Chapters,in: The Evolution of Economic Institutions, chapter 7 Edward Elgar Publishing.
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    Cited by:

    1. Maria Rosaria Carillo & Erasmo Papagni, 2013. "Is the ‘Globalization’ of Science Always Good for Scientific Productivity and Economic Growth?," Metroeconomica, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(4), pages 607-644, November.
    2. Dailami, Mansoor & Kurlat, Sergio & Lim, Jamus Jerome, 2012. "Bilateral M&A activity from the Global South," The North American Journal of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 345-364.
    3. Maria Rosaria Carillo & Erasmo Papagni & Fabian Capitanio, 2008. "Effects of social interactions on scientists' productivity," International Journal of Manpower, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 29(3), pages 263-279, June.
    4. Maria Rosaria Carillo & Erasmo Papagni, 2006. "Social Rewards in Science and Economic Growth," Discussion Papers 10_2006, D.E.S. (Department of Economic Studies), University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F15 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Economic Integration
    • F21 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Investment; Long-Term Capital Movements
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation

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