Some Evidence Patents Matter

Apparently the evidence is mixed on the importance of patents as an incentive to innovation, though it always seemed intuitive to me that patents should matter. Petra Moser has just published research from his dissertation, that seems to add evidence on the side of patents mattering:

How Do Patent Laws Influence Innovation? Evidence from Nineteenth-Century World’s Fairs

Petra Moser

Abstract: Studies of innovation have focused on the effects of patent laws on the number of innovations, but have ignored effects on the direction of technological change. This paper introduces a new dataset of close to fifteen thousand innovations at the Crystal Palace World’s Fair in 1851 and at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 to examine the effects of patent laws on the direction of innovation. The paper tests the following argument: if innovative activity is motivated by expected profits, and if the effectiveness of patent protection varies across industries, then innovation in countries without patent laws should focus on industries where alternative mechanisms to protect intellectual property are effective. Analyses of exhibition data for 12 countries in 1851 and 10 countries in 1876 indicate that inventors in countries without patent laws focused on a small set of industries where patents were less important, while innovation in countries with patent laws appears to be much more diversified. These findings suggest that patents help to determine the direction of technical change and that the adoption of patent laws in countries without such laws may alter existing patterns of comparative advantage across countries. (JEL D2, K11, L51, N0, O14)

Source:
Moser, Petra. “How Do Patent Laws Influence Innovation? Evidence from Nineteenth-Century World Fairs.” The American Economic Review 95, no. 4 (2005): 1214-1236.

Massive Firings Get Reported; Massive Hirings Do Not

The media have a tendency to cover massive layoffs and firm failures but rarely mention when firms hire a large number of people or when a surprisingly large number of new firms are being formed in particular months. From an evolutionary point of view, firm bankruptcies are undesirable only if they are not brought about by other firms that provide better products and services. Joseph Schumpeter’s (1942) characterization of capitalism as a process of creative destruction underlines the evolutionary view that better economic structures can only be achieved by allowing underperforming entities to be replaced by organizations that can make better use of their resources. (p. 225; italics in original)

Murmann, Johann Peter. Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Coevolution of Firms, Technology, and National Institutions, Cambridge Studies in the Emergence of Global Enterprise: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

It’s Hard to Be Consistent

After Alfred Kahn succeeded in leading the effort to deregulate the airline industry, he apparently received some complaints about some of the results of deregulation:

When Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate and author of the bestselling Conscience of a Conservative, wrote him to complain about unpleasant conditions aboard now-packed flights, Kahn replied that this was the inevitable consequence of breaking up a “cartel-like regime.” He added, “When you have further doubts about the efficiency of a free market system, please do not hesitate to convey them to me. I also warmly recommend some earlier speeches and writings of one Senator Barry Goldwater.” (p. 382)

Yergin, Daniel, and Joseph Stanislaw. The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
The results of the free market combine the preferences and actions of all of the participants in the market. So even the most fervent advocate of the process, will inevitably find some of the results distasteful or unpleasant. But the advocate should try to be consistent for two reasons. Primarily, because the free market embodies free choice, and free choice is morally good. Secondarily, because the free market produces more good results than any other process.

Peter Drucker Saw the Importance of Creative Destruction

12drucker_184.jpg1999 photo of Drucker from NYT online article cited below.

Peter F. Drucker, the political economist and author, whose view that big business and nonprofit enterprises were the defining innovation of the 20th century led him to pioneering social and management theories, died yesterday at his home in Claremont, Calif. He was 95.

For the full obituary, see:
BARNABY J. FEDER. “Peter F. Drucker, a Pioneer in Social and Management Theory, Is Dead at 95.” The New York Times ( November 12, 2005) online version dowloaded from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/12/business/12drucker.html?pagewanted=1

Peter Drucker is sometimes given credit for helping keep the ideas of Schumpeter alive, and helping spur their revival in the 1980s. See Drucker’s article:
Drucker, Peter F. “Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?” Reprinted as Ch. 12 in The Frontiers of Management. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1986, pp. 104-115 (originally published as: “Schumpeter and Keynes.” Forbes (May 23, 1983): 124-128).

Rioting Caused by Economy Closed to Creative Destruction

FrenchRiots11-2005.jpg Source of photo: WSJ online version of article quoted and cited below.

The French rioters face very high unemployment. French restrictions on the labor market, and the economy more generally, cause the high unemployment. For example, the French make it hard for firms to fire employees, so as a result, firms are more reluctant to hire workers in the first place, resulting in higher unemployment. Although they do not know it, the rioters are rioting because France is closed to creative destruction. The following commentary is on point:

(p. A16) Like other Americans, immigrants often dramatically improve their quality of life and economic prospects by moving out to less dense, faster growing areas. They can also take advantage of more business-friendly government. Perhaps the most extreme case is Houston, a low-cost, low-tax haven where immigrant entrepreneurship has exploded in recent decades. Much of this has taken place in the city itself. Looser regulations and a lack of zoning lower land and rental costs, providing opportunities to build businesses and acquire property.

It is almost inconceivable to see such flowerings of ethnic entrepreneurship in Continental Europe. Economic and regulatory policy plays a central role in stifling enterprise. Heavy-handed central planning tends to make property markets expensive and difficult to penetrate. Add to this an overall regulatory regime that makes it hard for small business to start or expand, and you have a recipe for economic stagnation and social turmoil. What would help France most now would be to stimulate economic growth and lessen onerous regulation. Most critically, this would also open up entrepreneurial and employment opportunity for those now suffering more of a nightmare of closed options than anything resembling a European dream.

For the full commentary, see:
Joel Kotkin. “Our Immigrants, Their Immigrants.” The Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2005): A16.

Gradualism Doomed to Failure


Perhaps these observations are relevant to the claim by what I call the “left Schumpeterians” (e.g., Tom Friedman) that a substantial labor safety net is necessary for creative destruction to work.

(p. 271) In Warsaw, from 1978 onward, he had directed what became known as “the Balcerowicz group,” a long-running study group that was devoted to analyzing the “problems” of socialism and the question of how to reform the Polish economy. It focused on such basic questions as property rights, the proper role of the state in the economy, inflation, and what was increasingly becoming the true hallmark of socialism-shortages. All of this convinced Balcerowicz that “gradualism” was doomed to failure. Unless enough changes were combined and applied rapidly, the necessary “critical mass” would not be reached. Unlike many economists, he also dabbled in social psychology. He was particularly impressed by the theory of cognitive dissonance. As Balcerowicz summed up its significance for economic reform: “People are more likely to change their attitudes and their behavior if they are faced with radical changes in their environment, which they consider irreversible, than if those changes are only gradual.”



Source:
Yergin, Daniel, and Joseph Stanislaw. The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace that is Remaking the Modern World.. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Just Throwing Money at R&D Does Not Work?

R&Denigma.gif
(Source: downloaded graphic from online version of WSJ see below, p. A13)

Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a consulting firm, analyzed six years of financial results by 1,000 publicly traded companies responsible for the bulk of R&D spending globally. The firm found the companies that spent proportionately greater sums than their industry peers didn’t enjoy greater revenue gains or better profits.
The finding flies in the face of academic studies and accepted wisdom on the value of corporate research. It also comes as researchers warn that U.S. companies need to increase spending or risk falling behind rivals in China and India, which are rapidly industrializing.
Booz Allen concluded that once a minimum level of research and development spending is achieved, better oversight and culture were more significant factors in determining financial results. The study calculated the percentage of a company’s revenue spent on R&D and compared it with sales growth, gross profit, operating profit, market capitalization and total shareholder result.

McWilliams, Gary. “In R&D, Brains Beat Spending In Boosting Profit.” The Wall Street Journal
(Weds., October 11, 2005): A2 & A13.
Ah, so maybe the entrepreneur or R&D manager, can make a difference after all? (This is not a surprise, if you believe, as I do, that Clayton Christensen is on to something important.) Or, though less interesting, the results might just be due to diminishing returns to R&D.

Greenspan on Creative Destruction

This morning, Alan Greenspan delivered an excellent speech on “Economic Flexibility” at Georgetown before the National Italian American Foundation, Washington, D.C. Here is the part of the speech most directly relevant to the process of creative destruction:

Starting in the 1970s, U.S. Presidents, supported by bipartisan majorities in the Congress, responded to the growing recognition of the distortions created by regulation, by deregulating large segments of the transportation, communications, energy, and financial services industries. The stated purpose of this deregulation was to enhance competition, which had come to be seen as a significant spur to productivity growth and elevated standards of living. Assisting in the dismantling of economic restraints was the persistent, albeit slow, lowering of barriers to cross-border trade and finance.
As a consequence, the United States, then widely seen as a once-great economic power that had lost its way, gradually moved back to the forefront of what Joseph Schumpeter, the renowned Harvard professor, had called “creative destruction”–the continual scrapping of old technologies to make way for the innovative. In that paradigm, standards of living rise because depreciation and other cash flows of industries employing older, increasingly obsolescent technologies are marshaled, along with new savings, to finance the production of capital assets that almost always embody cutting-edge technologies. Workers, of necessity, migrate with the capital.
Through this process, wealth is created, incremental step by incremental step, as high levels of productivity associated with innovative technologies displace less-efficient productive capacity. The model presupposes the continuous churning of a flexible competitive economy in which the new displaces the old.
As the 1980s progressed, the success of that strategy confirmed the earlier views that a loosening of regulatory restraint on business would improve the flexibility of our economy. No specific program encompassed and coordinated initiatives to enhance flexibility, but there was a growing recognition that a market economy could best withstand and recover from shocks when provided maximum flexibility.

The full speech is available at the Federal Reserve web site at: http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/2005/20051012/default.htm

Sewing Machine Benefitted Laborers

Speaking of the invention of a practical, affordable sewing machine:

It was a democratizing influence. James Parton was exaggerating only a little when he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 1867 that it was “one of the means by which the industrious laborer is as well clad as any millionaire.” (p. 84)

Evans, Harold. They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators from the Steam Engine to the Search Engine. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004.

When People Change


(p. 462) People don’t change when you tell them they should. They change when they tell themselves they must. Or as Johns Hopkins foreign affairs professor Michael Mandelbaum puts it, “People don’t change when you tell them there is a better option. They change when they conclude that they have no other option.”



Source:
Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.


Thomas Friedman’s claim here is plausible, but I find it surprising, given his strong push for a worker safety net when the worker loses a job to creative destruction. The safety net Friedman proposes, in this book anyway, is one that does incorporate some incentives to find a job, but sounds like it could be ‘gamed’ to delay the tough decisions that might need to be made. Hayek had some useful observations on this issue way back in his Road to Serfdom.

Yes to Growth, No to Change

Apparently a perq of being a columnist for the New York Times, is that you get access to pretty high quality economics tutors. Tom Friedman tells us:

My economics tutor Paul Romer is fond of saying, “Everyone wants economic growth, but nobody wants change.” Unfortunately, you cannot have one without the other, especially when the playing field shifts as dramatically as it has since the year 2000. (p. 339)

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.