Senator and likely presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared on last Tuesday’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, promoting his new book and weathering an endless stream of jokes about his home state of Florida. While the discussion covered a range of policy ground, we wanted to highlight one comment by Senator Rubio that showed an all too common misunderstanding of innovation and automation.
Rubio said, “The concern I have about the minimum wage increase is that we have been told by the CBO and independent analysts that it will cost certain jobs. And that happens when some businesses will decide that well, you’ve now made our employees more expensive than machines so we’re going to automate. So in 5-10 years it’s going to happen anyway but this will accelerate this process, when you go to a fast food restaurant it will not be a person taking your order, there will be a touchscreen there that you will order from and when you get your order it will be right. [uneasy laughter] But the point is, if you make that person now more expensive than that new technology, they’re going … Read the rest
Boston Consulting Group and Qualcomm have just released a new report examining the impact of mobile devices on the economy, focusing on the benefits mobile brings to small businesses and consumers in six countries including the United States, Germany, Korea, Brazil, China and India. The authors estimate that mobile technologies increase consumer welfare by the equivalent of 10 percent of total income in developed countries, and 20-45 percent of total income in developing countries. In fact, the total value that mobile brings to consumers is estimated to be more than double the size of the of the entire mobile industry revenue.
These economic gains have been enabled by remarkable technological progress. Global average cost per megabyte has declined from nearly 98 percent between 2005 and 2013, while maximum data speed has increased from ~10 to 250 mbps over the same period. These vast changes in cost and performance have made mobile technology affordable to billions of people around the world. Even so, more technological progress is necessary: 90 percent of mobile technology users report having problems with their connection. 5G and 6G technologies will continue to improve access and connectivity … Read the rest
A new NBER paper, “Starving (or Fattening) the Golden Goose?: Generic Entry and the Incentives for Early -Stage Pharmaceutical Innovation” (summarized here), asks whether competition from generic drugs disincentivizes research. The authors, Branstetter, Chatterjee and Higgins, find that this does broadly seem to be the case: drug development activity decreases after generic drugs are introduced. This result highlights the important tradeoff between research and consumption. When consumers pay for drugs, intellectual property (IP) policies play a large role in determining how much of that cost goes toward future drug development.
Pharmaceutical markets are risky: drug development takes 12 years from initial pre-trial preparation to bringing a drug to market, and between the complexity of the human body and the extended regulatory approval process only a small proportion of drugs make it all the way to market. Of the ones that do, a small minority make up the large majority of profits.
This riskiness means that policies play a critical role in getting pharmaceutical markets to work correctly: if companies do not have incentives that outweigh the risks, they will not invest in researching new drugs and bringing them … Read the rest
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) attempt to balance static and dynamic efficiency. By allowing innovators to appropriate a greater share of the value generated from their ideas, IPRs can create incentives for investment in research and development (R&D). With regard to pharmaceuticals for developing countries, incentives for drug development are critical, since many diseases prevalent in developing countries lack appropriate treatments. However, those in the global health community often allege that prices of new innovative drugs under patent make them unaffordable to most people in developing countries because of the absence of generic competition.
Thus, understanding the effects of IPRs on access and affordability are important for researchers, policymakers, and firms. In December 2014, Margaret Kyle and Yi Qian published a new paper investigating this with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Titled Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Innovation: Evidence from TRIPS, the authors examine the effect of pharmaceutical patent protection on the speed of drug launch, price, and quantity in 60 countries from 2000-2013.
The paper begins by noting that though the introduction of IPRs is an endogenous decision taken by policy makers, developing countries were required by … Read the rest
In the 1980s, Japan was America’s chief rival in most technology industries. Not only could Japanese firms compete in advanced sectors against U.S. firms, they had an innovation advantage. In fact, research and design (R&D) investments in Japan were 40 percent more productive in producing IT patents than were R&D investments in the United States, implying that Japanese firms were better able to make advancements into developing better good, products, and processes.
However, in the 1990s this trend reversed. U.S. firms, while less innovative in hardware manufacturing, developed an innovation advantage in software, with R&D spending yielding 60 percent more patents per dollar spent in the United States than in Japan. A recent paper by Ashish Arora, Lee G. Branstette, and Matej Drev explains why.
Software represented a new frontier for an industry that had previously focused on producing hardware such as semiconductor, televisions, computers, and other advanced machinery. High-tech firms adjusted rapidly to the new challenge, and innovations quickly built on previous innovations, and an IT patent filed in 2002 was 10 times more likely to cite a software patent than one filed in 1992.
Advanced technology industries in … Read the rest
Ask any economist why some countries are poor and some countries are rich, and they will probably answer, “productivity”. Essentially, this means that people in rich countries are rich because they are able to create more wealth with less effort. But how do they do this? One of the primary ways is through better technology.
Unfortunately, instead of being recognized for its contribution to wealth, better technology is all too often demonized as a threat to employment, particularly in low-income countries without social safety nets. Intuitively, people care more about the jobs and income streams that already exist than the potential future savings from automating their jobs–a bird in hand, as they say. But a new paper by Mehmet Ugur and Arup Mitra of the University of Greenwich shows that even in very poor countries, technology is far less threatening than it may appear.
We have argued here before that robots are not taking our jobs: in the long run on a macro level productivity increases have no relationship with either the total number of people employed or with the level of unemployment. This is because when automation or … Read the rest
In 1956, an American engineer, William Shockley, had an idea that silicon could be used to make transistors, and founded a company in Mountain View, California. The rest is history. The area experienced explosive growth after the invention of the silicon semiconductor sparked waves of innovation. Other firms developed around the Shockley’s first company, also developing and improving on the invention. Continual support from nearby Stanford University, along with collaboration between local firms, created an innovative environment ideal for fostering growth. By the 1960s, 31 semiconductor firms had been established in the country, of which only five were located outside the region. Smaller firms providing research, specialized services, and other inputs located nearby the larger companies. Innovation thrived, the local economy boomed, the center of high-tech innovation shifted from the east coast to the west, and the Silicon Valley was born.
The Silicon Valley is a prime example of how advanced R&D tends to focus in clusters- geographically concentrated industries that maximize spillovers from firm to firm and between public and private researchers. Once research concentrates in an area, it is hard to displace, which is why DOE and other … 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
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