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
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
For much of the postwar era the United States led the world in technology, which brought significant economic benefits to the nation. That leadership was due in large part to generous federal government funding for R&D, much of it channeled through military spending. That this occurred during the Cold War was no coincidence: as William Janeway argues in Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, nations have historically been unable to muster the political will for significant spending on innovation without it being part of a “national mission,” since such spending means giving up current consumption for uncertain future benefits. In the last half of the 1800s, nation building provided the mission for America—just as that does now for China. But after the late 1940s the animating mission that helped drive technology innovation was winning the Cold War, which we did.
The threat from the Soviet Union meant that Americans were willing to sacrifice present consumption for the good of the nation–in this case keeping the world safe for freedom and democracy. And it meant we did what it took to win—and that meant innovating. The fact that Lockheed’s Skunk … Read the rest
The Washington Post printed a story about how the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has submitted the opinions of six experts on child development to the Federal Trade Commission in support of CCFC’s complaint against toy maker Fisher-Price for marketing its “Laugh and Learn” app for infants and small children.
One of the six experts, Herbert Ginsburg writes, “Existing research suggests that infants and very young children are not cognitively ready to learn key abstract ideas about numbers. Although some children at the upper bounds of this age range might learn to parrot some number words they are highly unlikely to learn important concepts of numbers.”
To be sure I am not a child development expert (although I did study child development in college.) I am a parent of a wonderful daughter. When she was 19 months old I ran across a Fisher Price online game, “The ABC Game“, which taught infants and toddlers their letters. (This was pre-tablet so I used a laptop). My daughter would press keys on my laptop and up would pop a picture of the letter, a picture of an animal whose first … 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
Obtaining a drug patent isn’t easy: it requires, on average, 14.6 years and $1.2 billion in pre-approval research and development and clinical testing. In addition, it also requires the developer to meet a set of three internationally accepted conditions. According to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, in order to obtain a patent, a drug must:
- Be new,
- Involve an inventive step, and
- Be capable of industrial application.
TRIPS also clarifies that “involving an inventive step” and “being capable of industrial application” are synonymous with “non-obvious” and “useful”, respectively. For being a WTO legal document, it’s actually surprisingly clear: be new, be non-obvious and be useful.
Typically, the patent is issued prior to a drug’s clinical testing, primarily because if a commercially viable drug is developed from the clinical testing, it is vulnerable to theft and copying. In other words, patents are filed upon discovery of a chemical formula, as part of the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s “first to file” rule. Without the patent, innovative pharmaceutical companies would not have an incentive to research and develop this formula into … Read the rest
On Wednesday, October 16, ITIF hosted representatives from innovation and government agencies from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden to discuss Nordic Innovation: What Can America Learn from the Scandinavian Innovation Ecosystem. (Video and audio from the event are available here.) The speakers credited the recent success of the Nordic economies to several factors, including: a strong bipartisan consensus regarding the importance of federal investment in education, scientific research, and innovation; well-organized national innovation systems that benefit from formally articulated national innovation strategies (Finland’s, Sweden’s, Denmark’s) and well-funded national innovation agencies; and fundamental reforms undertaken in these economies over the past two decades that have made their tax structures more globally competitive, markets more competition-based, federal budgets better balanced, and workers greater skilled.
Indeed, across a range of indicators, it’s clear that Denmark, Finland, and Sweden represent some of the world’s most innovative and globally competitive economies. For instance, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark rank second, third, and eighth, respectively, in ITIF’s Atlantic Century II report, which benchmarks 44 nations and regions on 16 key indicators of innovation and competitiveness. In terms of national R&D intensity—how much … Read the rest
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University rolled out a new website this morning— piracydata.org—that attempts to collect data about whether or not the most pirated movies (as ranked by TorrentFreak) are available for lawful viewing online. The site’s authors seem to suggest that 1) the content industry is doing a poor job of making content available; and 2) piracy would go away if the content industry would just release more movies sooner, cheaper or in a different format. Both arguments are wrong.
First, let’s look at the fact. The website had several errors at launch, and it still had some errors as of this afternoon. (For example, Pacific Rim is currently available via YouTube rental.) But using corrected data we can see that six of the ten movies listed are available legally on various digital sites (Google Play, Amazon, iTunes, etc.). In addition (and not mentioned on the website), three of the ten are available for purchase On-Demand via Comcast and four of the ten are available on AT&T U-Verse. The idea that studios are not making movies available to consumers is nonsense. Today there are more ways … Read the rest
In the United States the national debate on immigration often overlooks one of its most important effects: its impact on our innovation economy. A new NBER paper by William Kerr highlights the crucial role that immigration plays in national economic growth.
High-skilled immigrant workers, that the United States allows in through the H-1B visa program, make significant contributions to economic growth in a number of ways. First of all, there is a disproportionate amount of “superstar” scientists such as Nobel Prize winners that come from immigrant backgrounds. These scientists make breakthrough contributions that often have enormous impacts on our science and technology and thus ultimately our economic growth. Second, immigration provides a large number of other STEM workers, workers that form the backbone of our productive capacity. Since 1995 immigrants have provided the majority of the increase in stem workers in the United States.
These inflows of workers clearly benefit the economy. The paper finds that “immigration is associated with higher levels of innovation for the United States and that the short-run consequences for natives are minimal.” Long-run consequences are less well understood—high-still immigrants do still compete with U.S. natives … Read the rest