The Past and Future of Economic Growth: A Semi-Endogenous Perspective (Atkinson Memorial Lecture 2021)

The nonrivalry of ideas gives rise to increasing returns, a fact celebrated in Paul Romer’s recent Nobel Prize. An implication is that the long-run rate of economic growth is the product of the degree of increasing returns and the growth rate of research effort; this is the essence of semi-endogenous growth theory. This paper interprets past and future growth from a semi-endogenous perspective. For 50+ years, U.S. growth has substantially exceeded its long-run rate because of rising educational attainment, declining misallocation, and rising (global) research intensity, implying that frontier growth could slow markedly in the future. Other forces push in the opposite direction. First is the prospect of “finding new Einsteins”: how many talented researchers have we missed historically because of the underdevelopment of China and India and because of barriers that discouraged women inventors? Second is the longer-term prospect that artificial intelligence could augment or even replace people as researchers. Throughout, the paper highlights many opportunities for further research.

The Atkinson Memorial Lecture is an annual distinguished lecture series established in 2018 in memory of Professor Sir Tony Atkinson, jointly by the Global Priorities Institute (GPI) and the Department of Economics. The aim is to encourage research among academic economists on topics related to global prioritisation – using evidence and reason to figure out the most effective ways to improve the world. This year, we are delighted to have Professor Charles I. Jones deliver the Atkinson Memorial Lecture. The Atkinson Memorial lecture is organised in conjunction with the Parfit Memorial lecture.

Please note that the title and abstract for this talk have been updated since the event was first advertised.