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Productivity driving growth in China and Asia

LIRNEasia’s future work will focus on knowledge-based economies, which makes us very interested in stories like this, which place innovation at the center.

China’s productivity has been lifted by a massive expansion of private enterprise, and a shift of labour out of agricultural work and into more productive jobs in industry. China’s average return on physical capital is now well above the global average, according to Goldman Sachs. A decade ago it was less than half the world average.

Why have the Asian economies led the pack? The most important determinants of longer-term productivity growth are the rate of adoption of existing and new technologies, the pace of domestic scientific innovation and changes in the organisation of production. These, in turn, depend on factors such as the openness of an economy to foreign direct investment and trade, education and the flexibility of labour markets.

Using a composite index of technology penetration and innovation (including, for instance, computers and mobile phones per head), Mr Cates finds a strong link between the rate of increase in an economy’s technological progress and its productivity growth. China’s level of technology is still well behind that in America, but it has seen by far the fastest rate of improvement over the past decade. This is not just because China started from such a low base but also because it is more open to foreign investment than many other emerging economies, including Japan and South Korea when they were at similar stages of development. China’s TFP growth is almost twice as fast as that of Japan and South Korea during their periods of peak economic growth.

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