1887

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Working Papers

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Working Papers aim to stimulate discussion and critical comment on the broad range of economic, social and environmental issues associated with the United Nations Development Agenda.

English

Lessons for Today from Past Periods of Rapid Technological Change

We provide a history of past periods of rapid technological change starting from the Industrial Revolution continuing up to today. We find that it takes decades for technological breakthroughs to make a difference to the aggregate economy. The reason for this delay is that to realize the value of these breakthroughs requires complementary investments. Second, for good or for bad, government has played an important role in facilitating these transitions through both investments in physical infrastructure and legal reforms. We also emphasize that because technological breakthroughs are difficult to predict, the responses of governments are necessarily improvisational.

English

Keywords: automation, Industrial Revolution, technological anxiety
JEL: N10: Economic History / Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations / Economic History: Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations: General, International, or Comparative; O33: Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth / Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights / Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
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