Labour productivity, ICT and regions: The revival of Italian “dualism”?
Among the reasons underlying the slow economic convergence of some regions towards the national and the European Union average, the strong gap in technological endowment and innovation capacity has been indicated as one of the most important factors. The requirements of the current ‘knowledge-based economy’ and the contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to socio-economic change are very likely to have a significant impact upon regional differentials in the European Union. So far, however, it is rather unclear whether the new paradigm will spur greater socio-economic cohesion or, on the contrary, stronger territorial polarisation. This paper looks at the distribution of ICT-producing small and medium enterprises in Italy, comparing structural variables – in particular spatial and sectoral dimensions - with labour productivity levels. Ultimately, the objective is to shed some light on the role that ICT-producing firms might play with respect to regional gaps in the Italian economy, traditionally characterised by geographical polarisation and imbalances which are among the most striking in the “Europe of regions”. The first result of our analysis (carried out by using experimental micro data) is that a linkage seems to emerge between high labour productivity and the IT industry. This is in line with the insights of the economic theory of technical change, suggesting that IT-producing sectors are those where gains in productivity are by far the most evident. As expected, the geographical location of firms accounts for a good deal when looking at labour productivity levels across sectors, casting some concern on the development perspectives of the Italian regional divide.
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