- 01 июня 2012, 14:29
- The Economist. Free Exchange
TODAY’S Free exchange print article examines whether economies get a growth boost from using digital technology. Doing shopping and tax returns online clearly saves time queuing, so digitisation seems to make sense. The chart below plots a new index (here) showing advanced economies’ path to digitisation.
It might seem obvious that investing in digital technology is a good thing. The problem is that while theoretical economics tends to look fondly at digitisation, empirical types are worried about reverse causality: does growth drive digitisation, or digitisation drive growth?
History tells us to take the reserve causation complication seriously. Shifts in technology have happened before—with textiles, canals, steel, and electricity, for example. A paper by Diego Comin and Bart Hobijn looks back at 200 years of such technology shifts. Rather than technology making poor countries richer, they shows that new ways of working are generally adopted by rich countries, and only slowly trickle down to the poor.
The good news is that modern technology seems to diffuse much more quickly across countries than ever before, and new studies find that digitisation does enhance growth. Since lots of countries are largely analogue this is an opportunity: digitise and grow. But digital growth is not all rosy: Sub-Saharan African countries are lagging behind, and there is talk of a “digital divide”. This seems very close to the poverty traps of old. The challenges with new forms of growth might turn out to be exactly the same as the old ones.