Why the US and EU are failing to set information free
Susan Ariel Aaronson, 14 July 2014
The internet promotes educational, technological, and scientific progress, but governments sometimes choose to control the flow of information for national security reasons, or to protect privacy or intellectual property. This column highlights the use of trade rules to regulate the flow of information, and describes how the EU, the US, and their negotiating partners have been unable to find common ground on these issues. Trade agreements have yet to set information free, and may in fact be making it less free.
Tim Berners-Lee, the architect of the World Wide Web, taught us that the internet we have is a function of the choices we (users, companies, policymakers, etc.) make about information flows. For example, in 1995, Berners-Lee chose not to patent his work on the World Wide Web because he feared patenting it could limit its universality and openness. He continues to advocate this.
Topics: EU policies, Global governance, International trade
Tags: data protection, EU, free trade agreements, Human rights, Information, information technology, internet, national security, privacy, technology, trade, US, WTO
Are large headquarters unproductive?
Masayuki Morikawa, 19 June 2014
Headquarters play important strategic roles in modern companies, but downsizing of headquarters is often advocated as a cost-cutting measure. This column presents evidence from Japanese firm-level data that the size of headquarters is positively associated with firms’ overall productivity. Moreover, the benefits of ICT are greater for companies with relatively large headquarters. Downsizing headquarters to cut costs may thus be harmful for long-term company performance.
The role of headquarters
Headquarters – the core service sector inside companies – conduct a wide range of highly strategic activities, including:
Topics: Productivity and Innovation
Tags: centralisation, headquarters, ICT, Japan, Management, productivity, technology
Net neutrality: A simple goal with some difficult implementation ahead
Joshua Gans, 11 June 2014
Netflix recently agreed to pay Comcast for faster access to Comcast’s customers, intensifying the debate over ‘net neutrality’ – the principle that internet service providers should treat all data equally. This column argues that without net neutrality regulation, ISPs can capture the benefits of higher-quality content, thereby discouraging innovation from content providers. To be effective, net-neutrality regulation must prevent content-based price discrimination on both sides of the market.
Net neutrality has a simple goal – to ensure that consumers face an undistorted choice in choosing where to devote their attention on the Internet. The rationale for that goal is to ensure a ‘level playing field’ for those who provide content, applications, or anything else via the Internet.
Topics: Competition policy, Industrial organisation, Microeconomic regulation
Tags: Federal Communications Commission, internet, market power, net neutrality, price discrimination, regulation, technology, US
Did the internet prevent all invention from moving to one place?
Chris Forman, Avi Goldfarb, Shane Greenstein, 23 May 2014
The diffusion of the internet has had varying effects on the location of economic activity, leading to both increases and decreases in geographic concentration. This column presents evidence that the internet worked against increasing concentration in invention. This relationship is particularly strong for inventions with more than one inventor, and when inventors live in different cities.
Reading the technology press, it often seems as if the media think all high-tech invention happens in Silicon Valley. This parochial viewpoint highlights the ‘agglomeration’ advantages that the Valley provides to inventors because so many technology firms are located in the same place.
Topics: Frontiers of economic research, Productivity and Innovation
Tags: agglomeration, economic geography, information technology, internet, invention, patents, technology
Newspaper readership, civic attitudes, and economic development: Evidence from the history of African media
Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda, 14 May 2014
African regions where Protestant missionaries were active had indigenous newspapers a century before other regions. This column argues, based on new research, that this difference has had lasting effects. Proximity to a mission that had a printing press in 1903 predicts newspaper readership today. Population density and light density (a proxy for economic development) is also higher today in regions nearer to missions that had printing presses. The results suggest that a well-functioning media – not Protestantism per se – was important for development.
Poor governance due to lack of political accountability is often cited as an explanation for the low level of economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of political accountability can emerge when voters do not choose their candidates according to their expected performance.
Topics: Development, Economic history, Institutions and economics, Politics and economics
Tags: accountability, Africa, democracy, development, media, religion, technology, voting
US electrification in the 1930s
Carl Kitchens, 29 January 2014
Economists have found that large-scale infrastructure investments tend to increase economic growth and reduce poverty. However, there has been relatively little research on the effects of smaller, more targeted investment projects. This column discusses recent research on the effects of the US Rural Electrification Administration, which provided subsidised loans for connecting farms to the electric grid. Counties that received electricity through the REA witnessed smaller declines in agricultural productivity, smaller declines in land values, and more retail activity than similar counties that did not.
In 1930, fewer than 10% of farms in the US had access to electricity. By the mid-1950s, almost every farm in the country had electricity. While the US was able to extend electricity to its rural locations rapidly over a 25-year period, much of the developing world still remains without electricity today. In 2012, 1.3 billion people lived without electricity worldwide.
Topics: Development, Economic history
Tags: Agriculture, electricity, electrification, growth, infrastructure, investment, subsidies, technology
Is technological progress a thing of the past?
Joel Mokyr, 8 September 2013
Has technological progress slowed down? Have we really picked all the low-hanging fruit? This column argues that technological progress is in fact not a thing of the past. Far from it. There are myriad reasons why the future should bring more technological progress than ever before – perhaps the most important being that technological innovation itself creates questions and problems that need to be fixed through further technological progress. If we rethink how innovation happens, we have every reason to suspect that we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Technological progress has been at the heart of economic growth for two centuries. Some authors, however, have suggested that product and process innovation are running out of steam:
Topics: Productivity and Innovation
Tags: technological progress, technology
Technology and income dynamics: 1800-2000
Diego Comin, Martí Mestieri, 28 May 2013
Cross-country inequality is persistent. This column draws on economic history to explain the mechanisms by which dramatic cross-country differences in income emerge. We can reduce inequality through policies that facilitate the penetration of new technologies in poor and middle-income countries. Such policies can go a long way towards reducing existing cross-country income disparities.
Two-hundred years ago, cross-country differences in income were relatively small. European countries and Western offshoots, what Maddison (2004) called Western countries, were on average 90% richer than the rest.1 By 2000, this income gap had grown to 750%.
Topics: Economic history
Tags: income, technology
Four changes to trade rules to facilitate climate change action
Aaditya Mattoo, Arvind Subramanian, 4 May 2013
Global climate cooperation has collapsed but the need for action has not disappeared. This column argues that only radical technological progress can reconcile climate-change goals with development. It argues that four changes in WTO trade rules could facilitate climate-change action and technological advances without unduly damaging trade.
The research on the links between trade rules and climate-change action has mostly been concerned with how far climate-change action is constrained by current trade rules pertaining, for example, to border-tax adjustments (Horn and Mavroidis 2011), subsidies (Green 2006) and exports of natural gas (Levi 2012 and Hufbauer et al. 2013).
Topics: Energy, Environment
Tags: adaptation, climate change, technology
European data protection: Impact of the EU data-protection regulation
Laurits R. Christensen, Federico Etro, 24 March 2013
The EU is planning to harmonise data protection. This column balances the benefits of harmonisation against the estimated costs to business – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – and the macroeconomic costs more generally. The net compliance costs will perhaps be larger than the EU predicts.
Policymaking and regulation at the centralised level in a union of countries such as the EU require care. Policymakers must strike a careful balance between the benefits of the harmonisation of policies and the costs of accounting for the differing preferences of individual countries (see Dewatripont et al. 1995).
Topics: EU policies, Europe's nations and regions
Tags: data protection, harmonisation, technology