Laptop Saturation and the Productiveness Slowdown

One of many present puzzles in economics is the current worldwide slowdown in productiveness, in comparison with the late Nineties and early 2000s. This productiveness loss is economically massive: if productiveness development had stayed on the similar degree as in 1995-2004, American GDP would have elevated by trillions of {dollars}. On this put up, I talk about a brand new paper that hyperlinks this productiveness slowdown to saturation in electronics adoption throughout most industries. I present that a lot of the productiveness development from digital miniaturization is concentrated between 1985 and 2005.

Declining Productiveness and Moore’s Legislation

Within the U.S., common labor productiveness development within the 1995-2004 interval was 2.85 % per 12 months. This productiveness development considerably declined within the following decade, to a mean of 1.27 % per 12 months within the 2005-2015 interval. This sample isn’t distinctive to america. For a panel of OECD nations, Syverson (2017) exhibits that labor productiveness development fell from 2.3 % within the 1995-2004 interval, to 1.1 % over the 2005-2015 interval.

I suggest that saturation of electronics in different industries might clarify the dynamics of productiveness development. When computer systems first have been launched, they have been very massive and heavy, and have been solely utilized in very specialised purposes. As a consequence of fixed enhancements in semiconductor manufacturing expertise, digital transistors shrank by 50 % each eighteen months, a pattern often known as Moore’s Legislation. As computer systems and electronics decreased in measurement and weight, they have been adopted as inputs by an increasing number of industries—together with just about all manufacturing and repair industries—resulting in elevated productiveness throughout the financial system. In Azar (2022), I take advantage of a brand new information set of merchandise’ weights to estimate the impact of Moore’s Legislation on productiveness development.   

Digital Miniaturization Results in New Product Mixtures

To estimate how digital miniaturization impacts productiveness development, I develop a brand new mannequin the place corporations have completely different strategies or  “recipes’’ to make their merchandise, and the productiveness of every technique depends upon the mix of inputs utilized in manufacturing. For instance, there are a lot of alternative ways to supply a automotive, relying on which supplies are used. A automotive from the 2020s with 1000’s of microchips and a carbon-fiber alloy body will likely be a lot safer, snug, and environment friendly than a automotive from the Fifties that has no digital parts and has a metal body.

On this mannequin, there are bodily limits on which inputs may be mixed to make a product. The rationale why automobiles or industrial machines from the Fifties didn’t depend on electronics isn’t as a result of computer systems didn’t exist, however as a result of they have been too massive and heavy to be virtually utilized in manufacturing. That is illustrated beneath.

Word: When manufacturing a automotive, the overall sum of part weights can not exceed the load of the automotive, which on this determine is 4,000 kilos. Small digital parts, comparable to trendy GPS gadgets (0.5lbs), cameras (0.06 lbs.) and Digital Management Models (2 lbs.) all match comfortably contained in the automotive. Nonetheless, state-of-the-art supercomputers (5,500 lbs.) can’t be included into the automotive with out violating the load constraint.

I take advantage of a brand new information set of merchandise’ weights from IHS Markit to find out the median weight of every {industry}’s product. I mix this with provide chain tables from the Bureau of Financial Evaluation (BEA) to find out how a lot every enter’s weight contributes to the ultimate product’s weight. With this mixed information set, I can simulate what occurs to the provision chain as the scale of electronics and semiconductors decreases.   

As electronics and computer systems lower in measurement, the variety of potential enter combos utilized by completely different manufacturing and repair industries will increase. The chart beneath exhibits the log-change within the variety of potential enter combos for the typical manufacturing and the typical non-manufacturing {industry}. From the chart, we will see that the variety of new potential combos for manufacturing begins rising within the Nineteen Sixties, peaks within the Seventies, and drops off slowly beginning the Nineteen Eighties by way of the early 2000s. In distinction, the variety of new potential combos for non-manufacturing industries begins rising within the early Nineteen Eighties, peaks within the late Nineties and early 2000s, and declines since then—with a small bump within the early 2010s.

Variety of New Mixtures

Supply: Creator’s computation from PIERS information set.

These patterns exhibiting the adoption of latest enter combos arising from digital miniaturization match the historic adoption of computer systems and electronics in numerous industries. Manufacturing industries, comparable to airplane producers or industrial machine producers, have been early adopters of computer systems and digital parts. Although computer systems of the time have been massive, the machines being produced on the time have been massive sufficient to suit them.

On the similar time, computer systems have been solely broadly adopted in non-manufacturing industries—comparable to finance, companies and retail—after the introduction of the IBM and Apple private computer systems (PCs) within the Nineteen Eighties. PCs allowed a lot of desk employees to have entry to their very own gadget, as a substitute of getting to depend on a company-wide mainframe. The introduction of laptops, smartphones and tablets, allowed service suppliers on the sphere to hold a computing gadget on them always. Moreover, the miniaturization of electronics led to previously “dumb” gadgets comparable to cameras and medical tools to have their very own computational skills.

New Product Mixtures Result in Elevated Productiveness

Up to now, we now have seen that digital miniaturization has led to a rise within the variety of possible combos of inputs, each for manufacturing and non-manfacturing industries. However does this enhance productiveness? I present that that is certainly the case, by regressing industry-level productiveness on the variety of possible enter combos made potential by digital miniaturization. The regression outcomes suggest {that a} 1 % enhance in enter combos results in a 0.004 % enhance in {industry} productiveness.

I then use this estimated regression coefficient—along with the time sequence on the variety of possible combos—to estimate the impact of Moore’s Legislation on every {industry}’s productiveness. Lastly, I combination the industry-specific estimates to acquire an estimate of how digital miniaturization affected your complete U.S. financial system over time. The outcomes are proven within the subsequent chart. The yellow line exhibits the realized productiveness pattern, whereas the blue line exhibits the productiveness attributable to Moore’s Legislation. The pink line exhibits one other measure, which doesn’t bear in mind productiveness spillovers between completely different industries. In complete, about 11.74 % of all productiveness features between 1960 and 2020 may be attributed to digital miniaturization.

Productiveness Progress Attributable to Digital Miniaturization

Supply: Creator’s calculations based mostly on Port Import/Export Reporting Providers, Bureau of Financial Evaluation, and NBER-CES Manufacturing Business Database.

Most of those productiveness features are concentrated within the 1985-2005 interval, when computer systems and electronics have been included into just about each {industry}. Throughout this era, Moore’s Legislation accounts for 14.22 % of all productiveness development. An necessary remark from the chart is that, after the mid-2000s, productiveness contributions from Moore’s Legislation grow to be negligible and total productiveness declined. Earlier than 1985, computer systems have been nonetheless too massive to make a big contribution to the efficiency of most companies and merchandise. After 2005, computer systems had grow to be so small that they’d already grow to be important in virtually each {industry}, and any subsequent adoption since then has solely led to incremental enhancements in productiveness. This means that a big a part of the post-2005 productiveness slowdown may be defined by the saturation of electronics adoption. As soon as electronics have been sufficiently small for use in virtually all industries, their impact on productiveness vanished.

Photo: portrait of Pablo Azar

Pablo Azar is a monetary analysis economist in Cash and Funds Research within the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York’s Analysis and Statistics Group.

Tips on how to cite this put up:
Pablo Azar, “Laptop Saturation and the Productiveness Slowdown,” Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York Liberty Avenue Economics, October 6, 2022,

The views expressed on this put up are these of the writer(s) and don’t essentially replicate the place of the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the accountability of the writer(s).