The financial crisis in 2008 and the following economic recession have put productivity on the agenda as the central driving force of growth in the world’s economies. During the following years, few countries have been able to fully regain lost momentum, but there are signs of new technological and organisational innovations. There is also a renewed interest in industrial policy and policy measures for advanced manufacturing.

Such new policy initiatives are described in a new report from the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment network (EPTA) that was launched at the annual EPTA Conference in Oslo on 28 October 2014. The report explores both the current situation and important trends; from the German Industry 4.0, via catapult centres promoting innovation in the UK, to the Danish productivity commission and Dutch work on robots, employment and social justice.

A new technological wave?

According to MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, we are standing on the threshold of a «second machine age». 3D-printing, autonomous cars, speech recognition and cheap, flexible robots all herald a new era where the norm is abundance rather than scarcity. As they succinctly put it: «Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power … what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power».

The picture is, however, not entirely rosy; there is a worry that this development might eventually lead to fewer jobs, and a widened income gap. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne have analysed how susceptible different kinds of jobs are to be taken over by new technology. They conclude that low-skill, low-income jobs are most exposed, and estimate that as much as 47% of US employment is at risk of being eradicated.

On this basis, a crucial issue for all economies will be how to take advantage of technological development, without at the same time raising the unemployment rate. The risk for jobless growth is therefore a paradox to be taken seriously.

An international perspective

– Because of the increasingly globalised world we now live in and the rapid diffusion of technology, few challenges are contained within one region or country, says acting president of EPTA, Tore Tennøe.

– The report describes challenges, policies, and trends in different countries, and we believe this can support policy makers in their efforts to develop effective strategies for the future, Tennøe adds.

This report is the result of a collaboration in which the members, and associate members of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment network (EPTA), have contributed with reports from their respective country or region.

Each member institution is reporting on the following topics:

  • The national situation at a glance, which describes the current status on productivity and other financial and technological matters.
  • Productivity challenges, in which the main obstacles hindering productivity growth are outlined.
  • Technology trends and policy initiatives.

EPTA: productivity in Europe



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