Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?

Sep 4, 2021

Moore's Law is the observation that the number of transistors in the integrated circuit roughly doubles every two years. But it's becoming harder and harder for technology to follow Moore's law, with a slowdown since 2010. Experts predict that we'll stop following Moore's Law around 2025, but chip manufacturers continue to surprise us. This begs the question:

Are ideas getting harder to find?

One of my professors from Stanford wrote a paper on this topic as it related to long-run Macroeconomic growth. In most long-run models of the economy, growth is sustained by something called total factor productivity, which I wrote about in Is Technology Making Us More Productive?

Professor Jones argues that the increase in the number of researchers and the falling measure of productivity is one reason why it seems like ideas are getting hard to find. He looked at research productivity across different industries.

The special thing about ideas is that once discovered, anyone can use them at the same time. Having zero marginal cost is something that makes software special as well – it can be used by many people at the same time for virtually no extra cost. If anything, that's the saving grace of the slowdown of ideas.

The paper is a little dense, but some interesting reading if you want to understand more about the most important input to economic growth: ideas.