Digital Abundance and Scarce Genius: Implications for Wages, Interest Rates, and Growth

50 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2019 Last revised: 29 May 2023

See all articles by Seth Benzell

Seth Benzell

Chapman University - The George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics; MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy; Stanford University, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Digital Economy Lab

Erik Brynjolfsson

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Stanford

Date Written: February 2019

Abstract

Digital versions of labor and capital can be reproduced much more cheaply than their traditional forms. This increases the supply and reduces the marginal cost of both labor and capital. What then, if anything, is becoming scarcer? We posit a third factor, ‘genius’, that cannot be duplicated by digital technologies. Our approach resolves several macroeconomic puzzles. Over the last several decades, both real median wages and the real interest rate have been stagnant or falling in the United States and the World. Furthermore, shares of income paid to labor and capital (properly measured) have also decreased. And despite dramatic advances in digital technologies, the growth rate of measured output has not increased. No competitive neoclassical two-factor model can reconcile these trends. We show that when increasingly digitized capital and labor are sufficiently complementary to inelastically supplied genius, innovation augmenting either of the first two factors can decrease wages and interest rates in the short and long run. Growth is increasingly constrained by the scarce input, not labor or capital. We discuss microfoundations for genius, with a focus on the increasing importance of superstar labor. We also consider consequences for government policy and scale sustainability.

Suggested Citation

Benzell, Seth and Brynjolfsson, Erik, Digital Abundance and Scarce Genius: Implications for Wages, Interest Rates, and Growth (February 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w25585, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3341245

Seth Benzell (Contact Author)

Chapman University - The George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics ( email )

1 University Drive
Orange, CA 92866
United States

MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy ( email )

245 First Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Stanford University, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Digital Economy Lab ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Erik Brynjolfsson

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Stanford ( email )

366 Galvez St
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://brynjolfsson.com

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