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Volumes of Evidence: Examining Technical Change Last Century Through a New Lens

Author

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  • Michelle Alexopoulos
  • Jon Cohen

Abstract

Although technical change is central in much of modern economics, traditional measures of it are, for a number of reasons, flawed. We discuss in this paper new indicators based on data drawn from the MARC records of the Library of Congress on the number of new technology titles in various fields published in the United States over the course of the last century. These indicators, we argue, overcome many of the shortcomings associated with patents, research and development expenditures, innovation counts, and productivity figures. We find, among other things, the following: the pattern and nature of technical change described by our indicators is, on the whole, consistent with that of other measures; they represent innovation not diffusion; a strong causal relationship between our indicators and changes in TFP and output per capita; innovations in some sub-groups have had a greater impact on output and productivity than others and, moreover, the key players have changed over time. Our indicators can be used to shed light on number of important issues including the empirical relationship between technology shocks and employment, the role of technology in cross-country productivity differences, and the part played by technological change in growing skills premia in the U.S. during the last few decades.

Suggested Citation

  • Michelle Alexopoulos & Jon Cohen, 2009. "Volumes of Evidence: Examining Technical Change Last Century Through a New Lens," Working Papers tecipa-350, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tor:tecipa:tecipa-350
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Miles S. Kimball & John G. Fernald & Susanto Basu, 2006. "Are Technology Improvements Contractionary?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1418-1448, December.
    2. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald & Nicholas Oulton & Sylaja Srinivasan, 2003. "The Case of the Missing Productivity Growth: Or, Does Information Technology Explain why Productivity Accelerated in the US but not the UK?," NBER Working Papers 10010, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Carol Corrado & Charles Hulten & Daniel Sichel, 2009. "Intangible Capital And U.S. Economic Growth," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(3), pages 661-685, September.
    4. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald & Nicholas Oulton & Sylaja Srinivasan, 2004. "The Case of the Missing Productivity Growth, or Does Information Technology Explain Why Productivity Accelerated in the United States But Not in the United Kingdom?," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2003, Volume 18, pages 9-82, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. repec:fth:harver:1473 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. John G. Fernald, 1999. "Roads to Prosperity? Assessing the Link between Public Capital and Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 619-638, June.
    7. Zvi Griliches, 1998. "Patent Statistics as Economic Indicators: A Survey," NBER Chapters, in: R&D and Productivity: The Econometric Evidence, pages 287-343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. John Shea, 1999. "What Do Technology Shocks Do?," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1998, volume 13, pages 275-322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Lee E. Ohanian, 2002. "Why did productivity fall so much during the Great Depression?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, vol. 26(Spr).
    10. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
    11. van Ark, Bart & Hao, Janet X. & Corrado, Carol & Hulten, Charles, 2009. "Measuring intangible capital and its contribution to economic growth in Europe," EIB Papers 3/2009, European Investment Bank, Economics Department.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. W. Erwin Diewert & Takanobu Nakajima & Alice Nakamura & Emi Nakamura & Masao Nakamura, 2011. "Returns to scale: concept, estimation and analysis of Japan's turbulent 1964–88 economy," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 44(2), pages 451-485, May.
    2. Michelle Alexopoulos & Jon Cohen, 2016. "The Medium Is the Measure: Technical Change and Employment, 1909—1949," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(4), pages 792-810, October.
    3. Michelle Alexopoulos & Jon Cohen, 2012. "The Effects of Computer Technologies on the Canadian Economy: Evidence from New Direct Measures," International Productivity Monitor, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, vol. 23, pages 17-32, Spring.
    4. Ning Huang & Erwin Diewert, 2011. "Estimation of R&D depreciation rates: a suggested methodology and preliminary application," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 44(2), pages 387-412, May.
    5. Georg von Graevenitz & Stuart J. H. Graham & Amanda Myers, 2019. "Distance (Still) Hampers Diffusion of Innovations," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) 2019-05, Centre for Competition Policy, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    6. Michelle Alexopoulos, 2011. "Read All about It!! What Happens Following a Technology Shock?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(4), pages 1144-1179, June.
    7. John G. Fernald & Robert E. Hall & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 2017. "The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 48(1 (Spring), pages 1-81.
    8. Bolboaca, Maria, 2019. "The Impact of Technological Change," Economics Working Paper Series 1902, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
    9. Alexopoulos, Michelle & Tombe, Trevor, 2012. "Management matters," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 59(3), pages 269-285.
    10. Michelle Alexopoulos & Alice O. Nakamura, 2011. "Grappling with the elephant: a symposium on technical change and productivity," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 44(2), pages 381-386, May.
    11. Frydman, Carola & Papanikolaou, Dimitris, 2018. "In search of ideas: Technological innovation and executive pay inequality," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(1), pages 1-24.
    12. Andrew C. Chang & Phillip Li, 2015. "Is Economics Research Replicable? Sixty Published Papers from Thirteen Journals Say "Usually Not"," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2015-83, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    13. Richard B. Freeman & Alice O. Nakamura & Leonard I. Nakamura & Marc Prud’homme & Amanda Pyman, 2011. "Wal‐Mart innovation and productivity: a viewpoint," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 44(2), pages 486-508, May.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Business Cycles; Technical Change; Productivity; Measurement;

    JEL classification:

    • E3 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity
    • N1 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations

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