Is it becoming more difficult to find new ideas that can drive innovation? A new research paper by four economists published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US should set the cat among the pigeons.

Nicholas Bloom, Charles Jones, John Van Reenen and Michael Webb show through detailed analysis of firms that research productivity is declining even as research efforts are rising. One of their key findings: “The number of researchers required today to achieve the famous doubling every two years of the density of computer chips is more than 18 times larger than the number required in the early 1970s." It seems the famous Moore’s Law has just hit an important roadblock.

There has been intense discussion in recent years about whether the global economy is moving towards secular stagnation because productive new ideas are becoming rarer by the day. The low-hanging fruit has already been plucked. The new findings on the productivity of researchers should add another element to this robust debate.

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