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Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?

Listed author(s):
  • Nicholas Bloom
  • Charles I. Jones
  • John Van Reenen
  • Michael Webb

In many growth models, economic growth arises from people creating ideas, and the long-run growth rate is the product of two terms: the effective number of researchers and their research productivity. We present a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply. A good example is Moore's Law. The number of researchers required today to achieve the famous doubling every two years of the density of computer chips is more than 18 times larger than the number required in the early 1970s. Across a broad range of case studies at various levels of (dis)aggregation, we find that ideas — and in particular the exponential growth they imply — are getting harder and harder to find. Exponential growth results from the large increases in research effort that offset its declining productivity.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23782.

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Date of creation: Sep 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23782
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  1. Robert J. Gordon, 2016. "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10544, June.
  2. Ufuk Akcigit & Murat Alp Celik & Jeremy Greenwood, 2016. "Buy, Keep, or Sell: Economic Growth and the Market for Ideas," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 84, pages 943-984, 05.
  3. Benjamin F. Jones, 2009. "The Burden of Knowledge and the "Death of the Renaissance Man": Is Innovation Getting Harder?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 283-317.
  4. Huffman, Wallace E. & Evenson, Robert E., 1993. "Science for Agriculture: A Long Term Perspective," Staff General Research Papers Archive 10997, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  5. Christopher Laincz & Pietro Peretto, 2006. "Scale effects in endogenous growth theory: an error of aggregation not specification," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 263-288, September.
  6. Michael Kremer, 1993. "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 681-716.
  7. Richard Blundell & Rachel Griffith & John van Reenen, 1999. "Market Share, Market Value and Innovation in a Panel of British Manufacturing Firms," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 66(3), pages 529-554.
  8. Joonkyung Ha & Peter Howitt, 2007. "Accounting for Trends in Productivity and R&D: A Schumpeterian Critique of Semi-Endogenous Growth Theory," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 39(4), pages 733-774, 06.
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