ONE of Joseph Schumpeter’s best-known observations was that successful businesses stand on ground that is “crumbling beneath their feet”. A danger is that standing still and resting on your laurels can precipitate a swift tumble. Rivals, meanwhile, can draw on the available stock of knowledge and technology to catch up with the leaders. To stay ahead, front-runners must keep inventing new things. This means that capitalism is inherently unforgiving: today’s leader is tomorrow’s failure. But it also means that it is inherently progressive, since clever ideas are quickly spread through the economy.
Some striking new research suggests that this Schumpeterian mechanism may have broken down. The leaders are staying ahead much longer than is desirable. A group of researchers at the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, examined the performance of a representative set of companies in 24 of its 35 member countries between 2001 and 2013. They discovered that the top 5% of them, dubbed “frontier firms”, have continued to increase their productivity while the other 95% (the laggards) have been stagnant in this regard.
Plenty of economists…Continue reading