Futuribles Journal n° 422

Économie, emploi - Recherche, sciences, techniques

Dromedary or Bactrian? On the Third Industrial Revolution

In a special dossier published in March/April 2017 launching a series of articles on the prospects for productivity and economic growth, Futuribles began a process of thinking on the past and future progression of productivity gains. This was linked to the debate, ongoing for several years now, on the dangers of a “secular stagnation”. Continuing this thinking, Gilbert Cette and Ombeline Jullien de Pommerol examine the dissemination of information and communications technology (ICT) over recent decades in the main developed countries and its contribution to economic growth. After a spike observed in the early 2000s, they note a stabilization of the spread of ICT as a factor of production. Given this finding, should we take the view that the third Industrial Revolution, driven mainly by ICT, is coming to an end? That would be a first — “dromedary” — hypothesis (by reference to that animal’s single hump). We might now be said, then, to be on the downslope and seeing a kind of exhaustion of the contribution of ICT to the growth of the developed economies. However, they contend, there is a second possible hypothesis, which they name after the Bactrian camel, where this first hump is followed by a second, which would be more promising in economic terms than the “hump” of 1995-2005.

This article presents their findings with regard to the spread of ICT, the underlying factors and the impacts of that spread in the main developed economies. It shows that performance enhancements from ICT do seem to be exhausted, but after a plateau (equating to a sort of transition phase between the development of ICT and its roll-out to the whole of the economy), we might actually see a new wave of improved economic performance on a potentially greater scale than the first hump of the camel.

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