The first comprehensive account of the growing dominance of the intangible economy
Early in the twenty-first century, a quiet revolution occurred. For the first time, the major developed economies began to invest more in intangible assets, like design, branding, R&D, and software, than in tangible assets, like machinery, buildings, and computers. For all sorts of businesses, from tech firms and pharma companies to coffee shops and gyms, the ability to deploy assets that one can neither see nor touch is increasingly the main source of long-term success.
But this is not just a familiar story of the so-called new economy. Capitalism without Capital shows that the growing importance of intangible assets has also played a role in some of the big economic changes of the last decade. The rise of intangible investment is, Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake argue, an underappreciated cause of phenomena from economic inequality to stagnating productivity.
Haskel and Westlake bring together a decade of research on how to measure intangible investment and its impact on national accounts, showing the amount different countries invest in intangibles, how this has changed over time, and the latest thinking on how to assess this. They explore the unusual economic characteristics of intangible investment, and discuss how these features make an intangible-rich economy fundamentally different from one based on tangibles.
Capitalism without Capital concludes by presenting three possible scenarios for what the future of an intangible world might be like, and by outlining how managers, investors, and policymakers can exploit the characteristics of an intangible age to grow their businesses, portfolios, and economies.
Jonathan Haskel is professor of economics at Imperial College London. Stian Westlake is a senior fellow at Nesta, the UK’s national foundation for innovation.
"One of this year’s most important and stimulating economic reads. . . . Read this book."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"The nineteenth- and twentieth-century world where capitalists owned factories and workers supplied labor has ended. In this book, Haskel and Westlake explain with fascinating examples how business assets today are mostly intangible and how this changes everything we know about business—corporate strategy, accounting, leadership, and industrial strategy. Whether you are a customer, investor, manager, employee, or politician, you will gain new insights from this tour de force."--John Kay, author of Other People's Money
"A must-read for anyone concerned about how to revive the growth of living standards."--Robert Peston, author of How Do We Fix This Mess?: The Economic Price of Having It All and the Route to Lasting Prosperity
"On almost every page of this book I found myself going 'Oh, now I understand' or 'Yes, I never looked at it that way.' Capitalism without Capital is highly original and illuminating. It has changed the way I look at things."--Daniel Finkelstein, The Times columnist
"This book shines a wonderful spotlight on the hidden capital that influences our world--measuring and understanding it is a top priority."--William R. Kerr, Harvard Business School
"This fascinating book examines an important but overlooked subject—the intangible nature of capital and activity in the modern economy. The transformation of the intangible economy has rarely been pointed out, and its implications are not much understood or discussed. There are no other books similar to this one."--Diane Coyle, author of GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History