The Great Depression is considered one of the darkest times for the US economy, but some argue that the US economy experienced strong productivity growth over the period. This column reassesses this performance using improved measures of total factor productivity that allow for comparisons of productivity growth in the Depression era and in later decades. Contrary to Alvin Hansen’s gloomy prognosis of secular stagnation, the US economy was in a very strong position during the 1930s by today’s standards.
Gerben Bakker, Nicholas Crafts, Pieter Woltjer, 05 February 2016
Alberto Galasso, Mark Schankerman, 07 January 2016
Economists take a keen interest in patent rights and their effect on innovation. The primary argument for the existence of patents is, after all, that they incentivise entrepreneurs to seek profit through innovating. This column looks at how patent rights affect innovation by small and large firms, finding that the results vary greatly depending on size.
Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, 12 December 2015
The globalisation of innovation is proceeding at a fast pace. This column argues that the ethnic composition of a firm’s US-based inventive work force is an important factor in whether the firm engages in international collaborations. Collaborative patents are often utilised when a US public company is entering into a new foreign region for innovative work. This is especially notable in markets with weak intellectual property protections.
Jan Lorenz, Fabrizio Zilibotti, Michael König, 19 November 2015
Received wisdom would make you think that you need lots of small firms that are innovating in order to push productivity in an economy. This column provides data suggesting that large firms with high productivity growth can act as technological leaders and supply the economy with a continuous stream of innovations. Overly strong patent protection can significantly reduce growth and increase inequality.
Jay Bhattacharya, Mikko Packalen, 09 November 2015
Academics get ahead in part due to how often their papers are cited. This column argues that the pressure to publish research that garners a lot of citations stifles scientific progress by discouraging exploration. But in the absence of a plausible alternative for measuring the novelty of scientific publications, citation-based measures have persisted. This column presents a new way to rank scientific journals based on novelty as opposed to impact, which could encourage scientists to pursue more innovative work.
Petra Moser, 04 November 2015
The effects of copyright laws on artistic creativity are difficult to identify. This column looks back at 19th century Lombardy and Venetia where, following annexation by Napoleon, basic copyright protection was adopted. The copyright laws raised both the quantity and quality of Italian opera. The findings have important implications for modern debates about protecting intellectual property.
Jeremiah Dittmar, Skipper Seabold, 19 August 2015
Internet-based communications technologies appear to be integral to the diffusion of social movements today. This column looks back at the Protestant Reformation – the first mass movement to use the new technology of the printing press to drive social change. It argues that diffusion of the Reformation was not driven by technology alone. Competition and openness in the media were also crucial, and delivered their biggest effects in cities where political freedom was most limited.
Philippe Aghion, Ufuk Akcigit, Antonin Bergeaud, Richard Blundell, David Hemous, 28 July 2015
In recent decades, there has been an accelerated increase in top income inequality, particularly in developed countries. This column argues that innovation partly accounts for the surge in top income inequality and fosters social mobility. In particular, the positive effect of innovation on social mobility is due to new innovators.
Roland Bénabou, Davide Ticchi , Andrea Vindigni, 19 April 2015
History offers many examples of the recurring tensions between science and organized religion, but as part of the paper’s motivating evidence we also uncover a new fact: in both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant and robust negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita. Three long-term outcomes emerge. First, a "Secularization" or "Western-European" regime with declining religiosity, unimpeded science, a passive Church and high levels of taxes and transfers. Second, a "Theocratic" regime with knowledge stagnation, extreme religiosity with no modernization effort, and high public spending on religious public goods. In-between is a third, "American" regime that generally (not always) combines scientific progress and stable religiosity within a range where religious institutions engage in doctrinal adaptation.
Jon Danielsson, Eva Micheler, Katja Neugebauer, Andreas Uthemann, Jean-Pierre Zigrand, 23 February 2015
The proposed EU capital markets union aims to revitalise Europe’s economy by creating efficient funding channels between providers of loanable funds and firms best placed to use them. This column argues that a successful union would deliver investment, innovation, and growth, but it depends on overcoming difficult regulatory challenges. A successful union would also change the nature of systemic risk in Europe.
Neil Lee, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 17 February 2015
Creativity is assumed to be the mother of invention, but research testing whether this is the case is surprisingly rare. This column addresses this gap in the literature by assessing whether firms in creative industries in the UK are more innovative than firms outside creative industries. The authors also examine whether the location of creative-industry firms in creative cities – and the size of creative cities – matters for the innovative capacity of these firms.
Hiroyasu Inoue, Kentaro Nakajima, Yukiko Umeno Saito, 11 February 2015
Despite vast improvements in information and communications technology, the tendency of firms in related industries to cluster together hardly changed between 1985 and 2005. This column examines the relationship between geographic clustering and innovation using establishment-level data from Japan. Research establishments – especially those in high-technology industries – are more localised than average. The degree of localisation is greater when establishments are weighted by their creativity, as measured by the number of patents created and the number of citations received.
Philippe Aghion, 19 January 2015
Jean Tirole’s Nobel was for his transformative work on industrial organisation. In this Vox Talk Philippe Aghion talks about Tirole’s contribution. The interview was recorded in November 2014.
Enrico Minelli, 19 December 2014
Growth and inequality are back at the centre of the economic debate. This column presents a framework for interpreting Thomas Piketty’s data based on Paul Romer’s model of endogenous growth. Two balanced growth regimes are possible in this framework: one (‘merit’) with a low capital–output ratio, a high interest rate, and high growth; and another (‘rent’) with a higher capital–output ratio, a somewhat lower interest rate, and much lower growth. An increase in the returns to physical capital accumulation compared to innovation could explain a shift from ‘merit’ to ‘rent’.
Daron Acemoglu, Gino Gancia, Fabrizio Zilibotti, 30 September 2014
Offshoring of production can have a deep impact on the wages and welfare of workers with different abilities through its effect on technological progress. This column argues that, when labour is sufficiently cheap abroad, firms have incentives to offshore low-skill tasks and invest in skill-biased technologies at home. Over time, however, offshoring raises foreign wages. This increases demand for all firms and makes innovations complementing low-skill workers more profitable. As a result, offshoring can eventually lead to higher wages for everybody and less inequality.
Avner Offer, 19 September 2014
Victory in World War I relied on three types of energy: renewable energy for food and fodder, fossil energy, and high explosive. This column argues that the Allies had a clear advantage in manpower, coal, and agriculture, but not enough for a quick decision. Mobilisation in continental economies curtailed food production, occasionally to a critical level. Technical competition was a matter of capacity for innovation, not of particular breakthroughs. Coercive military service and rationing of scarce energy and food had egalitarian consequences that continued after the war.
Marco Annunziata, 16 August 2014
Africa has generated a lot of enthusiasm lately. The cynical view of the continent as a hopeless basket case has been replaced by the lofty narrative of Africa Rising. This column argues that Africa’s progress is impressive, and there is more to the story than a commodity boom. But Africa is at a crossroads. The opportunities are huge, but the road ahead is long, and will require persistent and patient effort from policymakers as well as business.
Hongyong Zhang, 21 July 2014
The Chinese government has been actively promoting innovation via policies such as R&D subsidies, tax relief, and location policies. Since 1995, central and local governments have established more than 100 clusters in over 60 cities. This column presents new evidence on the effect of the concentration of firms on product innovation (new products) in the manufacturing industries.
Masayuki Morikawa, 20 July 2014
Innovation is a key driver of productivity growth, but innovation in the service sector has received relatively little attention. This column shows that the total factor productivity gap between Japanese firms with and without innovations is larger in services than in manufacturing. Whereas the percentage of firms holding patents is much higher in manufacturing than in services, trade secrets are just as important in both sectors. These results suggest that the protection of trade secrets makes an important contribution to productivity growth.
Holger Görg, Olivier N. Godart, Aoife Hanley, Christiane Krieger-Boden, 08 July 2014
Many firms are replacing traditional working hours with more flexible arrangements, reflecting new thinking on employee motivation. This column presents evidence from Germany that trust-based working time is associated with increased innovation. However, trust-based working hours also contribute to the blurring of workers’ professional and private lives, and may lead to excessive overtime. Careful design of trust-based working arrangements is required to reap the innovations gains while avoiding the health pitfalls.