Working Papers

Lessons for Today from Past Periods of Rapid Technological Change

We provide a history of past periods of rapid technological change starting from the Industrial
Revolution continuing up to today. We find that it takes decades for technological breakthroughs
to make a difference to the aggregate economy. The reason for this delay is that to realize the value of these breakthroughs requires complementary investments. Second, for good or for bad, government has played an important role in facilitating these transitions through both investments in physical infrastructure and legal reforms. We also emphasize that because technological breakthroughs are difficult to predict, the responses of governments are necessarily
improvisational.

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