sure and technological development produced huge gains through the rapid expansion of capabilities and decline of prices, there was a cost: “Things become impossible that you used to do.” As an illustration, he cited the difficulty of retrieving data stored on half-inch tape or a 5.25-inch floppy disk. Display technology, in what he called a “striking difference,” seemed immune to obsolescence and its associated costs.
Dr. McQueeney recalled that, a month before, a group having lunch at his research lab postulated that someone handed them an 8-inch floppy disk with winning lottery numbers that were to be drawn in an hour. The unanimous consensus was that those at the table would not have been able to collect the money because they would not have been able to find a reader in time.
Bill Long of Business Performance Research recounted having received two Web documents as part of a single STEP Board bulletin—one notifying him of the current meeting, the other of a workshop on research and development in data needs—and said that the juxtaposition of the two had, over the course of the day, brought certain questions to mind. Alluding to personal frustration with the quality of data he has collected and worked with, he indicated that he had been intrigued when speakers talked about “the possible use of ROI calculations either by the seller or the buyer” of information technology, as well as about “payback data—‘we paid for it in six days or six months,’ or whatever.” He said, however, that the data referred to had sounded “very proprietary” and characterized one speaker’s attitude thus: “We wouldn’t tell you even if we had it, and I’m not sure I’m going to tell you whether we have it.” Noting it was the job of many in the room to make sense of productivity gains and to determine what caused them, he asserted that success would depend on “some government agency collecting some data it’s not collecting now using a classification system that probably doesn’t yet exist.” He asked whether there had been any progress in that direction and what sort of progress might be expected over the next five to 10 years.
Dr. Corrado responded that comments throughout the day had provided fuel for the view that a broader definition of “business fixed investment” might be appropriate in describing the economy. “I don’t know if those of you who were speaking realize that you were supporting the view that R&D expenditures should be capitalized, that is, treated as business investment, in our national accounts,” she said. In view of the importance of innovation and technology in today’s economy, the measurement of R&D expenditures and considering whether some uses of employees’ time represent investment rather than inputs to current production are important topics in productivity research. Although studies have expanded the production boundary to encompass R&D and related outlays, the precise scope of these expenditures, and their measurement in real terms, are not settled issues and remain challenges before us.