12
The Simple Catching-up Effect: Some Empirical Tests

12.1 Catching up at the aggregated level

Strong empirical support for the catching-up hypothesis was provided, for example, by Baumol ( 1986) and Abramovitz ( 1986) when they tested it on sixteen developed countries for which Maddison ( 1982) had compiled productivity data dating back to 1870. Productivity is defined as GDP per hour worked. In Table 12.1, the trends of GDP per hour worked are compared in Maddison's sixteen countries during the period 1870-1970. The countries are ranked according to the rate of increase in productivity. As we see, there is a very strong negative correlation between a country's productivity level in 1870 and the rate of growth during the next 100-year period.

This finding does not provide as strong support for the catching-up factor as one might believe at first sight. First, the average productivity level does not approach that of the USA (the USA is defined as the technologically leading country) over the entire period. On the whole, an approach to the USA occurs only during the 1950s and 1960s. Rather than catching-up there is convergence, a decrease in the variance in productivity levels between the countries. These two concepts should be kept distinct: convergence means a reduction in the variance of productivity among a group of countries, while catching up implies a diminished gap between a leader and the followers. In addition, substantial shifts occur in the rank order between countries where productivity is concerned, which does not follow from the theory. For example, Sweden's position improved from fourteenth to third between 1870 and 1970.

Second, the selection of countries compared in Table 12.1 was naturally restricted by the access to data. The fact that data for these particular countries covering such a long period is available is no coincidence. Interest on the part of economic

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