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NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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How Destructive is Innovation?

Daniel Garcia-Macia, Chang-Tai Hsieh, Peter J. Klenow

NBER Working Paper No. 22953
Issued in December 2016, Revised in May 2018
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Entrants and incumbents can create new products and displace the products of competitors. Incumbents can also improve their existing products. How much of aggregate productivity growth occurs through each of these channels? Using data from the U.S. Longitudinal Business Database on all nonfarm private businesses from 1983 to 2013, we arrive at three main conclusions: First, most growth appears to come from incumbents. We infer this from the modest employment share of entering firms (defined as those less than 5 years old). Second, most growth seems to occur through improvements of existing varieties rather than creation of brand new varieties. Third, own-product improvements by incumbents appear to be more important than creative destruction. We infer this because the distribution of job creation and destruction has thinner tails than implied by a model with a dominant role for creative destruction.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22953

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