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Hi-tech Innovation and Productivity Growth: Does Supply Create Its Own Demand?

  • Robert J. Gordon

This paper argues that the late 1990s boom in ICT investment was unsustainable for both macro and micro reasons; we are unlikely again to witness an interval in which computer hardware investment grows at an annual rate greater than 30 percent for five straight years. Analysts who base their optimism on the role of Moore's Law in creating endless exponential growth of computer power neglect the need for an equally rapid explosion in the demand for computer power. Simply put, this paper argues that supply does not create its own demand. Yet a failure of ICT investment to revive to the ebullient growth performance of the late 1990s does not doom productivity growth to slip back to the dismal pre-1995 era. Instead, we argue that conventional analyses have exaggerated the contribution of ICT investment to the post-1995 productivity performance. Productivity can continue to grow at respectable rates even if ICT investment continues to slump. While accepting the contribution of ICT production to economy-wide productivity growth, the paper cites four reasons to suspect that standard analyses have exaggerated the contribution of ICT use, the so-called capital deepening' effect. First, these analyses unrealistically assume that the productivity payoff of computer use is instantaneous upon installation. Second, recent research indicates that the strong revival of productivity growth in retail trade occurred for reasons other than ICT use. Third, differential productivity growth across states in the U. S. appears to be related to ICT production but not to ICT use. Fourth, retailers in Europe use the same ICT equipment as in the U. S. yet have failed to enjoy a productivity revival, again indicating that factors other than ICT use are central.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9437.

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Date of creation: Jan 2003
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9437
Note: ITI PR EFG
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  1. Dale W. Jorgenson, 2001. "Information Technology and the U. S. Economy," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1911, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  2. Zvi Griliches, 1998. "Productivity, R&D, and the Data Constraint," NBER Chapters, in: R&D and Productivity: The Econometric Evidence, pages 347-374 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. C.J. Krizan & John Haltiwanger & Lucia Foster, 2002. "The Link Between Aggregate and Micro Productivity Growth: Evidence from Retail Trade," Working Papers 02-18, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  4. Francesco Daveri & Andrea Mascotto, . "The IT revolution across the U.S. states," Working Papers 226, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  5. Dale W. Jorgenson, 2001. "Information Technology and the U.S. Economy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 1-32, March.
  6. David, Paul A, 1990. "The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 355-61, May.
  7. Robert J. Gordon, 1996. "The Time-Varying NAIRU and its Implications for Economic Policy," NBER Working Papers 5735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Thor Hultgren, 1960. "Changes in Labor Cost During Cycles in Production and Business," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number hult60-1, May.
  9. Wayne Vroman, 1977. "Worker Upgrading and the Business Cycle," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 8(1), pages 229-252.
  10. Olivier Blanchard & John Simon, 2001. "The Long and Large Decline in U.S. Output Volatility," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 32(1), pages 135-174.
  11. 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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