Accounting for Innovations in Consumer Digital Services: IT Still Matters
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Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Measuring and Accounting for Innovation in the 21st Century, Carol Corrado, Jonathan Haskel, Javier Miranda, and Daniel Sichel, organizers
This paper develops a framework for measuring digital services in the face of ongoing innovations in the delivery of content to consumers. We capture what Brynjolfsson and Saunders (2009) call "free goods" as the capital services generated by connected consumers' stocks of IT digital goods; this service flow augments the existing measure of personal consumption in GDP. Its value is determined by the intensity with which households use their IT capital to consume content delivered over networks, and its volume depends on the quality of their IT capital. Consumers pay for delivery services, however, and the complementarity between device use and network use enables us to develop a quality-adjusted price measure for the access services already included in GDP.
Our new estimates imply that accounting for innovations in consumer content delivery matters: The innovations boost consumer surplus by nearly $1,800 (2017 dollars) per connected user per year for the full period of this study (1987 to 2017) and contribute more than 1/2 percentage point to US real GDP growth during the last ten. All told, our more complete accounting of innovations is (conservatively) estimated to have moderated the post-2007 GDP growth slowdown by nearly 0.3 percentage points per year.