Academic journal article NBER Reporter


Academic journal article NBER Reporter


Article excerpt

It is now seven years since Zvi Griliches, the NBER's Productivity Program Director for its first twenty years, passed away in October 1999. Due in large part to Zvi's enormous intellectual legacy and the extraordinary efforts he expended in nurturing and mentoring young scholars, I am pleased to report that the NBER's Productivity Program today is vibrant and robust, and that its researchers are carrying on the tradition of examining sources and consequences of innovation and productivity growth, and in the process developing and empirically exploiting new datasets.

Efficiency and productivity are essential concepts in almost every economist's tool kit, and thus it is not surprising that many of the NBER's Productivity Program members are affiliated with other NBER Programs where these concepts are important as well, including Labor Studies, Industrial Organization, Corporate Finance, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, International Trade and Investment, Law and Economics, and Health Care. What distinguishes the Productivity Program's research focus from these other Programs at the NBER is its strong emphasis on the roles of research and development, patents, incentive systems, regulations, knowledge spillovers, technological progress, organizational form, and market structure in influencing the extent and nature of productivity growth and innovation. In addition, a disproportionate share of Productivity Program researchers have traditionally focused considerable attention on issues involving economic measurement, such as measures of inputs, outputs, prices, quality change, and multifactor productivity, a focus that reflects Zvi Griliches's enduring bequest.

Rather than attempting to summarize the full scope of program activity, much of which overlaps with other NBER programs, I will highlight in this report research in six broad areas, domains particularly prominent in Productivity Program research over the last four to five years. The sequence I follow will begin with research on individual inventors, followed by research on knowledge flows within and across firms and other institutions, on patents and intellectual property protection, on market structure, international trade and investment, and recent research on macroeconomics and productivity growth, particularly on the role of information and communications technology investments.

Innovation at the Level of the Individual Inventor

Does technological progress, by expanding knowledge, place an increased educational burden on successive generations of innovators? Do today's innovators spend longer time in learning, and/or do they become more narrowly expert? Benjamin Jones (11359) shows that the age at which Nobel Prize winners and other great inventors produce great ideas has increased substantially over the twentieth century, specifically because of a large drop in productivity at young ages, and is closely related to an increasing age at completion of formal education. Focusing on more ordinary inventors, Jones (11360) shows that the age at first patent, teamwork, and specialization are all increasing over time. These papers suggest dramatic changes in the nature of innovation, with a decline in output by the very young and a ubiquitous move towards greater teamwork in the implementation of ideas. Related research by David Galenson (12185, 12058) on artistic innovation finds that artists who innovate early in their lives do so suddenly, while those who innovate late do so more gradually.

In a series of papers (9017, 10923, 11654) Kenneth Sokoloff and collaborators have used new micro data sets on patents, inventors, and patent assignment contracts in the United States beginning in the nineteenth century, and examined the changing division of labor between those who invented new technologies and those who exploited them commercially. Soon after the major patent reform of 1836, intermediaries--such as patent lawyers, agents, and agencies--emerged, facilitating transactions between buyers and sellers of patents. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.