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Thursday, March 03, 2016

'Barriers to Productivity Growth'

Chris Dillow:

Barriers to productivity growth: “The limits to productivity growth are set only by the limits to human inventiveness” says John Kay. This understates the problem. There are other limits. I’d mention two which I think are under-rated.
One is competition. Of course, this tends to increase productivity in many ways. But it has a downside. The fear of competition from future new technologies can inhibit investment today: no firm will spend £10m on robots if they fear a rival will buy better ones for £5m soon afterwards. ...
The second is that, as Brynjolfsson and MacAfee say, "significant organizational innovation is required to capture the full benefit of…technologies."
For example, Paul David has described (pdf) how the introduction of electricity into American factories did not immediately raise productivity much, simply because it merely replaced steam engines. It was only when bosses realized that electric motors allowed factories to be reorganized – dispensing with the need for machines to be close to a central power source – that productivity soared, as workflow improved and new cheaper buildings could be used. This took many years.
It's not just organizational change that's needed, though..., I suspect that if IT is to have (further?) productivity-enhancing effects, they require socio-organizational change. ...
However, there are always obstacles to the social and organizational change necessary for technical change to lead to productivity gains. These might be cognitive – such as the Frankenstein syndrome or “not invented here” mentality. Or they can be material. Socio-technical change is a process of creative destruction, the losers from which kick up a stink; think of taxi-drivers protesting against Uber.
Worse still, these losers aren’t always politically weak Ludditites. They can be well-connected bosses of incumbent firms, or managers seeking to maintain their power base. ...
The big question facing us is, therefore: do we have the right set of institutions to foster the socio-organizational change that beget productivity growth? These require a mix of healthy markets, to maximize ecological diversity; a financial system which backs risky new-comers; property rights which incentivise innovation; and state intervention that facilitates all these whilst not being captured by Luddites. If our politics weren’t so imbecilic, this question would be getting a lot more attention than it is.

Related: How concerned should we be about business investment and productivity growth? - Nick Bunker.

    Posted by on Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 10:51 AM in Economics, Productivity | Permalink  Comments (97)


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