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General Purpose Technologies in Theory, Applications and Controversy: A Review

Author

Listed:
  • Clifford Bekar

    ()

  • Kenneth Carlaw

    ()

  • Richard Lipsey

    () (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract

Distinguishing characteristics of GPTs are identified and definitions discussed. We propose a definition that includes many multipurpose and single-purpose technologies and that uses micro-technological characteristics not macro-economic effects. Identifying GPTs requires recognition that they evolve continually and that there are always boundary uncertainties concerning particular items. We consider existing ‘tests’ of whether particular technologies are GPTs, arguing that many of these are based on misunderstandings, either of what GPT theory predicts or of what such tests can establish. The evolution of formal GPT theories is outlined, showing that only the early theories predicted the inevitability of GPT-induced showdown and surges. More recent GPT models, that are designed to model GPT’s characteristics, demonstrate that GPT theory does not imply the necessity of specific macro effects. We then show how GPTs can rejuvenate the growth process without causing slowdowns or surges. We conclude that the concept is helpful, while the criticisms can be resolved.

Suggested Citation

  • Clifford Bekar & Kenneth Carlaw & Richard Lipsey, 2016. "General Purpose Technologies in Theory, Applications and Controversy: A Review," Discussion Papers dp16-15, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  • Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp16-15
    as

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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    5. Cristiano Andrea Ristuccia & Solomos Solomou, 2014. "Editor's choice Can general purpose technology theory explain economic growth? Electrical power as a case study," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 18(3), pages 227-247.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    General Purpose Technologies; technological change; patents; slowdowns; surges; growth theories; productivity;

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models

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