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Measuring the Social Return to R&D

  • Charles I. Jones
  • John C. Williams

January 24, 1997, Version 2.00 Is there too much or too little private research and development (R&D)? A large empirical literature reports estimates of the rate of return to R&D ranging from 30% to over 100%, supporting the notion that there is too little private investment in research. However, this conclusion is challenged by the new growth theory, which emphasizes a richer description of the connection between R&D and productivity. In this paper we bridge the gap between the theoretical and empirical literatures. Using the framework of an R&D-based growth model, we derive analytically the relationship between the social rate of return to R&D and the coefficient estimates of the empirical literature. Somewhat surprisingly, we show that these estimates represent a lower bound on the true social rate of return. Furthermore, our analytic framework provides a direct mapping from the rate of return to the degree of underinvestment in research. Using a conservative estimate of the rate of return to R&D of about 30%, optimal R&D investment is at least four times larger than actual investment. This is a substantially revised version of an earlier paper, "Too Much of a Good Thing? The Economics of Investment in R&D"

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Paper provided by Stanford University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 97002.

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Handle: RePEc:wop:stanec:97002
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  1. Sveikauskas, Leo, 1981. "Technological Inputs and Multifactor Productivity Growth," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 63(2), pages 275-82, May.
  2. Zvi Griliches, 1991. "The Search for R&D Spillovers," NBER Working Papers 3768, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Jean Tirole, 1988. "The Theory of Industrial Organization," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262200716, December.
  4. Jeffrey I. Bernstein & M. Ishaq Nadiri, 1986. "Research and Development and Intraindustry Spillovers: An Empirical Application of Dynamic Duality," NBER Working Papers 2002, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Jaffe, Adam B, 1986. "Technological Opportunity and Spillovers of R&D: Evidence from Firms' Patents, Profits, and Market Value," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 984-1001, December.
  6. Romer, Paul M, 1990. "Endogenous Technological Change," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages S71-102, October.
  7. Kim B. Clark & Zvi Griliches, 1984. "Productivity Growth and R&D at the Business Level: Results from the PIMS Data Base," NBER Chapters, in: R&D, Patents, and Productivity, pages 393-416 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Nadiri, M.I., 1993. "Innovations and Technological Spillovers," Working Papers 93-31, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  9. Bronwyn H. Hall & Jacques Mairesse, 1992. "Exploring the Relationship Between R&D and Productivity in French Manufacturing Firms," NBER Working Papers 3956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Aghion, P. & Howitt, P., 1989. "A Model Of Growth Through Creative Destruction," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 8904, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  11. M. Ishaq Nadiri, 1993. "Innovations and Technological Spillovers," NBER Working Papers 4423, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Nestor Terleckyj, 1980. "Direct and Indirect Effects of Industrial Research and Development on the Productivity Growth of Industries," NBER Chapters, in: New Developments in Productivity Measurement, pages 357-386 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  14. Scherer, F M, 1982. "Inter-Industry Technology Flows and Productivity Growth," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 64(4), pages 627-34, November.
  15. Nancy L. Stokey, 1995. "R&D and Economic Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 62(3), pages 469-489.
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