Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find Because of …

Listen now (18 min) | Innovation appears to be getting harder. At least, that’s the conclusion of Bloom, Jones, Van Reenen, and Webb (2020). Across a host of measures, getting one “unit” of innovation seems to take more and more R&D resources. To take a concrete example, although Moore’s law has held for a remarkable 50 years, maintaining the doubling schedule (twice the transistors every two years) takes twice as many researchers every 14 years. You see similar trends for medical research - over time, more scientists are needed to save the same number of years of life. You see similar trends for agriculture - over time, more scientists are needed to increase crop yields by the same proportion. And you see similar trends for the economy writ large - over time, more researchers are needed to increase total factor productivity by the same proportion. Measured in terms of the number of researchers that can be hired, the resources needed to get the same proportional increase in productivity doubles every 17 years.

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