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Unformatted text preview: earc h intens ity ” (the s hare of the work forc e labouring in ideagenerating
indus tries ). Bec aus e neither fac tor c an c ontinue growing c eas eles s ly , in the abs enc e of
s ome new fac tor c oming into play growth is lik ely to s low.
The growth in the number of people work ing in res earc h and dev elopment might s eem to
c ontradic t this pic ture of a les s inv entiv e ec onomy : the s hare of the Americ an ec onomy
giv en ov er to R&D has ex panded by a third s inc e 1975, to almos t 3%. But Pierre Az oulay of
MIT and Benjamin J ones of Northwes tern Univ ers ity find that, though there are more people
in res earc h, they are doing les s good. They rec k on that in 1950 an av erage R&D work er in
Americ a c ontributed almos t s ev en times more to “total fac tor produc tiv ity ”—es s entially , the
c ontribution of tec hnology and innov ation to growth—that an R&D work er in 2000 did. One
fac tor in this may be the “burden of k nowledge”: as ideas ac c umulate it tak es ev er longer for
new think ers to c atc h up with the frontier of their s c ientific or tec hnic al s pec iality . Mr J ones
s ay s that, from 1985 to 1997 alone, the ty pic al “age at firs t innov ation” ros e by about one
A fall of moondust
The third argument is the s imples t: the ev idenc e of y our s ens es . The rec ent rate of
progres s s eems s low c ompared with that of the early and mid20th c entury . Tak e k itc hens .
In 1900 k itc hens in ev en the pos hes t of hous eholds were primitiv e things . Peris hables were
k ept c ool in ic e box es , fed by bloc k s of ic e deliv ered on hors edrawn wagons . Mos t
hous eholds lac k ed elec tric lighting and running water. Fas t forward to 1970 and middle
c las s k itc hens in Americ a and Europe feature gas and elec tric hobs and ov ens , fridges ,
food proc es s ors , mic rowav es and dis hwas hers . Mov e forward another 40 y ears , though,
and things s c arc ely c hange. The giz mos are more numerous and digital dis play s ubiquitous ,
www.e c onomist.c om/ne ws/br ie f ing/21569381- ide a - innova...
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- Spring '14