In July 2014, ITIF’s Stephen Ezell testified before the Senate Finance Committee regarding the importance of manufacturing to America’s economy and the role that U.S. trade and technology policy plays in supporting American manufacturing. As part of his testimony, Ezell cited data describing the rapid decline of U.S. manufacturing employment to demonstrate the severity of the challenges faced by America’s manufacturing industries. For the reality is that, particularly since 2000, America’s manufacturing sector has been in a steep decline, with job losses outpacing those in many peer countries.
Following the hearing, Marc Levinson, a Section Research Manager with the Congressional Research Service, produced a report countering some of the data in Ezell’s testimony, and suggesting that there is not a clear cause for alarm regarding employment losses in the American manufacturing sector. However, Levinson’s account does not fully present all of the facts and only succeeds in further muddying this important policy debate.
One critique Levinson makes is charging Ezell with bias in selecting base years, which can have a sizable impact on analytical results. Levinson presents data using the years 1991 to 2000 and then the years from 2001 … Read the rest
U.S. productivity growth is stagnating, and if the trend continues it could have a drastic impact on the U.S. economy. Without increasing productivity, the only way for a country to get richer is by working more or borrowing more. Furthermore, productivity is a crucial part of international competitiveness, because it is only by increasing our productivity that we can compete with other countries on cost.
A recent BLS news release does a good job of showing the worrying trends. Productivity growth has been abnormally low since approximately 2006, plummeting through the Great Recession, recovering slightly immediately afterward, and slowing considerably since 2010.
The first graph below (Chart 1) provides historical context back to 2000. There is a clear decline in labor productivity (the dark blue line) and also multifactor productivity (light blue). These are the two most common ways of understanding output growth: labor productivity estimates how much each worker produces and multifactor productivity tells us how much each worker and unit of capital can together invest.
Looking back a bit further in time, the next graph (Chart 2) estimates the amount that different factors contributed to total productivity growth. … Read the rest
It doesn’t take long to get the drift of a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-partisan, anti-immigration think tank. The title basically sums it up: “All Employment Growth Since 2000 Went to Immigrants.” The only question left to the reader is, why they didn’t simply title it “Immigrants stole all of our jobs”?
Perhaps it’s because immigrants didn’t steal our jobs, and the authors have no evidence that they did, but they’re doing their best to insinuate that they do.
Their main findings certainly look surprising at first blush: immigrant employment has increased significantly since 2000, but native employment has not increased at all, despite the fact that native population has increased twice as much as immigrant employment. It seems like a closed case: all the new jobs went to immigrants, therefore we should decrease immigration.
If only it were that simple. As intuitive as it might seem to argue that a job is a job and an unemployed person is an unemployed person, this is not how economies work. The Center makes a mistake common to many casual observers of the labor market: what economists … Read the rest
A recent NBER working paper offers up some interesting new survey data on innovation in U.S. manufacturing industries. Authors Ashish Arora, Wesley M. Cohen, and John P. Walsh surveyed more than 5000 U.S. manufacturing firms in 2010, asking whether or not they brought new products to market in the previous three years.
Most notably, the data shows that the number of truly innovative manufacturing firms is relatively small. In the aggregate, it finds that 43 percent of firms introduced new products in the past three years, but only 18 percent of firms introduced new products that were wholly new to their market. In other words, one quarter of firms, and more than half of firms introducing new products, introduced “imitation” products following the lead of other companies. The percent of firms introducing totally new products ranged significantly between industries, from just 10 percent of firms in the “Wood” and the “Metals” industries, to 44 percent in the “Instruments” industry.
The survey also breaks down the results in a number of interesting ways, including where the innovations originated. It finds that the most common source of innovation is customers. This is … Read the rest
Productivity is one of the most fundamental determinants of our income and overall wellbeing, so the question of where productivity growth comes from is extremely important. There are many different ways to increase productivity, but increases that have a continued impact over time are the most important because accumulated productivity increases end up having a much larger impact than one-off changes.
Economists have understood for years that R&D is an important source of productivity growth. However, it hasn’t been entirely clear whether R&D affects productivity growth in short, one-time boosts, or whether it raises growth rates for longer periods.
A new paper by Italian economists Antonio Minniti and Francesco Venturini looks at data from the U.S. manufacturing sector and concludes that R&D policies have indeed created “persistent, if not permanent” changes in the rate of productivity growth. It also drills down into the type of R&D spending, finding that only R&D tax credits have a long-term impact on the growth rate while R&D subsidies provide just a temporary boost.
These results are good news for both the economy and for policymakers because they show the powerful impact that innovation policies … Read the rest
The H-1B visa program, which allows a limited number of high-skilled workers to work in the United States temporarily, is controversial because some claim that it lowers wages for high-skilled workers. However, a new paper by Peri, Shih, and Sparber of UC Davis and Colgate University shows just the opposite—that additional H-1B visa recipients raise wages in cities where they come to work.
The authors’ interest in immigration is a side effect of their interest in a more general labor market question: they use fluctuations in high-skill immigration due to the H-1B visa program as an instrument to examine whether the supply of STEM workers affects productivity growth. In essence the question is, what happens when you increase the amount of high-skill STEM workers: do wages fall as one would assume in a standard supply/demand framework? Or do they increase because of the effect that the high-skill workers have on productivity, demand for innovative workers, and economic growth?
To answer this question you can’t simply look at the amount of STEM workers in a city and average wages for those workers, because you can’t tell which way causality is going. … Read the rest
Economist, venture capitalist, and co-founder of the Institute for New Economic Thinking Dr. William Janeway stopped by ITIF this week for a discussion about his new book, Doing Capitalism in an Innovation Economy. Dr. Janeway presented a compelling view of the economy and touched on a number of important issues along the way.
Janeway explained that the government plays a critical role in innovation by providing research funding through institutions such as DARPA and the NIH, by leveraging the buying power of the federal coffers, and by creating policies that encourage business investment in R&D. Economists have long understood that private markets fail to allocate adequate resources to innovation and research: the benefits are too hard for individual corporations to capture. For this reason, policies like the R&D tax credit and public investment in basic research have long been uncontroversial.
Contrary to what recent high-profile failures like Solyndra might lead people to believe, government policies to spur innovation in the United States have had great success. This is apparent in the vast amount of money the private sector has poured into IT and Biotech businesses based on initial … Read the rest
Economic growth is something that almost everyone agrees is important: it’s how we enlarge the pie so that incomes can rise. Still, it is theoretically possible for the economy to grow with the benefits only going to corporate profits or a few wage earners at the very top. When this happens it is called “decoupling” because wages and productivity stop rising in tandem. Recently, a number of people have been arguing that decoupling is indeed occurring.
However, it turns out that can be more difficult than you expect to determine whether decoupling is happening, and, if it is happening, what might be causing it. Simple graphs can be deceptive: What is meant by wage growth? Should mean or median wage be used? What subset of workers does it make sense to study? Should non-wage benefits be included? Additionally, there may be significant measurement issues associated with certain statistical series, particularly those involving inflation and measurements of value added because of their significant complexity.
As countries compete for corporate R&D locations–and the attendant jobs and technology spillovers–tax policy is an important tool governments need to be aware of. There are several types of tax policies that attempt to attract R&D: tax credits for R&D spending, special tax allowances for R&D spending, and tax rate reductions on R&D output (usually based on patents). While it is well established that R&D spending and tax allowances tend to increase the quantity of R&D spending, a new paper by UK researchers Ernst, Richter, and Riedel finds that reductions in patent income taxes increase the quality of corporate research. Higher-quality research means effective R&D that has better benefits for the entire economy.
These research results are good news for the UK, which recently enacted “Patent Box” legislation, giving companies a 50% discount on profits they earn from patents (down to 10% from their planned 2015 overall corporate rate of 20%). Other countries that offer similar tax breaks for patent income include Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium.… Read the rest
University spinoffs more innovative, more successful than comparable firms
A new working paper by Swedish economist Andreas Stephan asks whether startups that were born as spinoffs from public universities are more innovative than similar, non-spinoff firms. Using a 2004 survey of East-German firms, Stephan compares the innovativeness of firms as measured by their patent applications and the originality of their patents. Even compared to firms of a similar age, industry, and location, the paper finds that university spinoffs do a better job of innovating.
The obvious lesson here for economic policy is that universities are studying useful things, and that we should have policies that encourage their transition from academic papers to real-world businesses. Business incubation has been on the U.S. national agenda for decades—since at least the passing of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act—but there is much more that we can do.
For instance, Stephan finds that spinoff firms were more successful due to their collaboration, their proximity to universities, and their ability to get public research grant funding. All three of these traits are easy to translate into policy. Stephan also notes that even those firms that were … Read the rest