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Inaugural lecture Robert Inklaar: Beyond growth? Productivity and prosperity in the 21st century

05 March 2018
Robert Inklaar
Robert Inklaar

Although the Dutch economy grew faster in 2017 than it had for many years, one promising year is not enough to hide the fact that 21st century is one of very slow growth. Productivity is growing particularly slowly, eroding the foundation necessary for a stable rise in the average standard of living in the Netherlands. If we also acknowledge that wages are lagging behind the growth in productivity, it becomes obvious that certain groups are losing out or their standard of living has stagnated year after year. This isn’t happening only in the Netherlands: the 21st century is a period of sluggish economic growth throughout Europe and the United States.

At the same time, technology is becoming smarter – from self-driving cars to prawn-peeling robots and computers that are better at board games than we are. Industry has recognized the opportunities. Businesses are currently investing relatively more of their budgets in new knowledge and improving their internal organization, and relatively less in buildings and machines. But if technology is so promising and businesses are investing, why is growth still so slow? Or are these very developments at the root of slower growth? Is all this new technology and the investment in knowledge only benefiting the most successful companies, and circumventing consumers and employees?

To answer these questions, we need better information. We need reliable data on the developments of economies and the sectors within these economies – data which reflect the great variation in technology and investments in the wide range of economic activities taking place. In an open economy such as that of the Netherlands, international connections between the activities are vitally important: they show us where our growth is coming from and where it is heading. Putting these pieces of the information jigsaw together will shed new light on the questions being asked and enable us to keep the public and the politicians informed.

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