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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. Romer, Paul M, 1990. "Endogenous Technological Change," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(5), pages S71-102, October.
  2. Bernstein, Jeffrey I & Nadiri, M Ishaq, 1989. "Research and Development and Intra-industry Spillovers: An Empirical Application of Dynamic Duality," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 56(2), pages 249-67, April.
  3. Zvi Griliches, 1991. "The Search for R&D Spillovers," NBER Working Papers 3768, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
  5. Aghion, Philippe & Howitt, Peter, 1992. "A Model of Growth Through Creative Destruction," Scholarly Articles 12490578, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Aghion, Philippe & Howitt, Peter, 1992. "A Model of Growth through Creative Destruction," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 60(2), pages 323-51, March.
  7. Sveikauskas, Leo, 1981. "Technological Inputs and Multifactor Productivity Growth," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 63(2), pages 275-82, May.
  8. Adam B. Jaffe, 1986. "Technological Opportunity and Spillovers of R&D: Evidence from Firms' Patents, Profits and Market Value," NBER Working Papers 1815, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Kim B. Clark & Zvi Griliches, 1982. "Productivity Growth and R&D at the Business Level: Results From the PIMS Data Base," NBER Working Papers 0916, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. R. Mehra & E. Prescott, 2010. "The equity premium: a puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1401, David K. Levine.
  11. M. Ishaq Nadiri, 1993. "Innovations and Technological Spillovers," NBER Working Papers 4423, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. repec:oup:restud:v:56:y:1989:i:2:p:249-67 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. 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.
  14. Jean Tirole, 1988. "The Theory of Industrial Organization," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262200716, June.
  15. repec:oup:restud:v:62:y:1995:i:3:p:469-89 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Nadiri, M.I., 1993. "Innovations and Technological Spillovers," Working Papers 93-31, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  17. 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.
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