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On the Uneven Evolution of Human Know-How

  • Richard R. Nelson

It is widely recognized that advances in knowhow have been the key driving force between the great improvements in human material well-being that have been achieved over the past two centuries. However, not much attention has been directed to the fact that the advances in knowhow that have been achieved have been highly uneven across different human wants. Thus advances in communications and computation technology have been dramatic. We have learned to eliminate or cure a wide variety of human diseases. Yet on the other hand, we have made little progress on certain kinds of diseases. And there has been very little progress on the processes of primary and secondary education. This paper explores the reasons behind the unevenness. Education is used as a canonical example of an area where little progress has been made. The analytic argument makes considerable use of a comparison between research and problem-solving in education, and research and problem-solving in various areas of medicine.

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Paper provided by Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy in its series LEM Papers Series with number 2003/25.

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Date of creation: 27 Dec 2003
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Handle: RePEc:ssa:lemwps:2003/25
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  1. Arora, Ashish & Gambardella, Alfonso, 1994. "The changing technology of technological change: general and abstract knowledge and the division of innovative labour," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 523-532, September.
  2. Mowery, David & Rosenberg, Nathan, 1979. "The influence of market demand upon innovation: a critical review of some recent empirical studies," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 102-153, April.
  3. Klevorick, Alvin K. & Levin, Richard C. & Nelson, Richard R. & Winter, Sidney G., 1995. "On the sources and significance of interindustry differences in technological opportunities," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 185-205, March.
  4. Murnane, Richard J. & Nelson, Richard R., 1984. "Production and innovation when techniques are tacit : The case of education," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 5(3-4), pages 353-373.
  5. Nelson, R.R. & Wolff, E.N., 1992. "Factors Behind Cross-Industry Differences in Technical Progress," Working Papers 92-27, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  6. Nelson, Katherine & Nelson, Richard R., 2002. "On the nature and evolution of human know-how," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 719-733, July.
  7. David, P.A., 1989. "Computer And Dynamo: The Modern Productivity Paradox In A Not-Too Distant Mirror," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 339, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  8. Cowan, Robin & Foray, Dominique, 1997. "The Economics of Codification and the Diffusion of Knowledge," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(3), pages 595-622, September.
  9. Nathan Rosenberg, 1996. "Uncertainty and technological change," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 40(Jun), pages 91-125.
  10. Dosi, Giovanni, 1988. "Sources, Procedures, and Microeconomic Effects of Innovation," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 1120-71, September.
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