HBS 100th Anniversary
Soria Moria Hotel, Oslo
Only one of Schumpeter’s ideas accepted: Technical change is the driver of economic growth. But it is not totally random, it has continuities and discontinuities.
1970: Low cost microelectronics, sw, computers, internet, digital telecommunications….
1907: Mass production, low cost petroleum fuels, universal highways and electricity networks
Success may depend on anticipating the future, which you can do by looking at the past. There are powerful regularities and identifiable specificities in technological revolutions: Comes every 40 to 60 years, at the end of maturity of the previous technology, and has a similar sequence of diffusion in two periods of 20 to 30 years, with a financial crisis in between.
Tech revolution and techno-economic paradigms
Five revolutions: 1771 Industrial revolution, 1829: age of steam and coal, iron and railways. 1875 age of steel and heavy engineering (electrical, chemical, civil and naval); 1908 Age of the automobile: 1971 Age of the information technology and telecommunications. Next one may be biotech, bioelectronics, nanotech and new materials.
We are only halfway in the IT revolution. And each revolution takes about half a century to spread around the world.
Each revolution has a double nature: the create new industries that function as engines of growth, but there is also a new techno-economic paradigm. The first creates an explosive growth, the second modernizes and rejuvenates the mature industries.
The diffusion of each technological revolution confronts enormous resistance from institutions deeply adapted to the previous paradigm. Therefore, each technological propagates in two different periods: Installation and deployment. The first half sets up the infrastructure, usually with over-investment, but the infrastructure stays. It is a period of creative destruction, of unlearning, lead by financial capital, ends in a stock-market crash. The second is one of creative construction, led by production capital, applying the paradigm to innovate across all sectors and to spread the social benefits more widely – until maturity and exhaustion.
Why the bubble?
The capitalist economy is shaped by two different and functionally separate agents: Production capital (agent of accumulating wealth-making capacity) and financial capital (agent for reallocating and redistributing). Production capital has a long-term bias, financial capital has a short-term bias. Financial capital is better at massively redirecting resources and force new paradigm diffusion. Production capital is better for carrying growth and expansion within an established paradigm.
The role of the state changes: In installation period – the gilded age – the market does it all. In the deployment stage – the golden age – the state has an intelligent come-back, promoting long term growth.
Three investment paths for assuring long-term growth
Financial wealth and production wealth can both be destroyed, but for financial wealth you normally cannot influence it.
The best investment for the future is the capacity for technical change. Short-term, this means fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the current paradigm. In the medium-term it means betting on the gestation of the next revolution. Insuring the long-term future means favoring open-ended science increasing the quality of human capital.
The current techno-economic paradigm shift is from the logic of cheap energy to the logic of abundant information. The new paradigm is still wrapped in the old, because cheap oil and cheap Asian labor favored stretching the old paradigm. But rising material and oil prices will lead to rising packaging and freight costs. Every little thing is wrapped in energy, such as cardboard or plastic. The visible effects of increasing global warming, with a rising climate risk (more Katrinas). There will be a change in the production, transport and distribution of tangible goods, leading to changes in business strategies and government policies.
The major transformations to expect (or to participate in): [lots of things], two being changes in lifestyle and urban planning towards activities and foot transportation.
Long-term funding: In the knowledge society, redistribution is not enough. Open-ended science works like a rich genetic pool. Investing in science, technology, education and entrepreneurship counteracts inflation by increasing average productivity. It is time to abandon market fundamentalism and agree ton a shared strategy to put order in finance and to collectively promote innovation to insure the future.