The Innovation Enigma

Around the world, there is enormous enthusiasm for the type of technological innovation symbolized by Silicon Valley, with many attempting to replicate the ingenuity that they regard as America’s true comparative advantage. But there is a puzzle: it is difficult to detect the benefits of this innovation in GDP statistics.

NEW YORK – Around the world, there is enormous enthusiasm for the type of technological innovation symbolized by Silicon Valley. In this view, America’s ingenuity represents its true comparative advantage, which others strive to imitate. But there is a puzzle: it is difficult to detect the benefits of this innovation in GDP statistics.

What is happening today is analogous to developments a few decades ago, early in the era of personal computers. In 1987, economist Robert Solow – awarded the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on growth – lamented that “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” There are several possible explanations for this.

Perhaps GDP does not really capture the improvements in living standards that computer-age innovation is engendering. Or perhaps this innovation is less significant than its enthusiasts believe. As it turns out, there is some truth in both perspectives.

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