I’m just coming up for air after our big conference on intangibles and economics: New Building Block for Jobs and Economic Growth (see earlier posting). But I want to get up a copy of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s remarks.
Here are a few teaser quotes:
The topics you will address today and tomorrow, bearing on innovation and intangible capital, are central to understanding how we can best promote robust economic growth in the long run.
Over long spans of time, economic growth and the associated improvements in living standards reflect a number of determinants, including increases in workers’ skills, rates of saving and capital accumulation, and institutional factors ranging from the flexibility of markets to the quality of the legal and regulatory frameworks. However, innovation and technological change are undoubtedly central to the growth process; over the past 200 years or so, innovation, technical advances, and investment in capital goods embodying new technologies have transformed economies around the world. In recent decades, as this audience well knows, advances in semiconductor technology have radically changed many aspects of our lives, from communication to health care. Technological developments further in the past, such as electrification or the internal combustion engine, were equally revolutionary, if not more so. In addition, recent research has highlighted the important role played by intangible capital, such as the knowledge embodied in the workforce, business plans and practices, and brand names. This research suggests that technological progress and the accumulation of intangible capital have together accounted for well over half of the increase in output per hour in the United States during the past several decades.
. . .
In the abstract, economists have identified some persuasive justifications for government policies to promote R&D activities, especially those related to basic research. In practice, we know less than we would like about which policies work best. A reasonable strategy for now may be to continue to use a mix of policies to support R&D while taking pains to encourage diverse and even competing approaches by the scientists and engineers receiving support.
We should also keep in mind that funding R&D activity is only part of what the government can do to foster innovation. As I noted, ensuring a sufficient supply of individuals with science and engineering skills is important for promoting innovation, and this need raises questions about education policy as well as immigration policy. Other key policy issues include the definition and enforcement of intellectual property rights and the setting of technical standards. Finally, as someone who spends a lot of time monitoring the economy, let me put in a plug for more work on finding better ways to measure innovation, R&D activity, and intangible capital. We will be more likely to promote innovative activity if we are able to measure it more effectively and document its role in economic growth.