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Book discussion: Capitalism without Capital - The Rise of the Intangible Economy

Monday, January 29, 2018 - 6:00pm
Rafik B. Hariri Building - Fisher Colloquium, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington, DC


On January 29, 2018 the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy hosted the launch of Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy (Princeton University Press).  

"With an impressive breadth of topics, this thorough book takes a compelling look at the importance of intangible capital. Arguing that it offers an invaluable lens to view modern, dynamic innovative economies, the framework that Haskel and Westlake set forth is useful, insightful, and indispensable." 

Carol Corrado, senior policy scholar, Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy   

Carol Corrado hosted a discussion, followed by audience Q+A:

  • Author:  Jonathan Haskel, professor of economics, Imperial College Business School
  • Author: Stian Westlake, policy adviser to the UK Minister of State for Science and Innovation and  Senior Fellow at the UK Innovation Agency, Nesta
  • Moderator:  Ryan Avent, senior editor, The Economist

A video of the event is available here.


Editor's note:

The first comprehensive account of the growing dominance of the intangible economy

Early in the 21st 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’. 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 that ranges from economic inequality to stagnating productivity.

In their latest work, Haskel and Westlake bring together a decade of research on how to measure intangible investment and its impact on national accounts, to show how the distinctive features of an intangible-rich economy make it fundamentally different from one based on tangibles.

So what does the future of an intangible world look like, and how can managers, investors, and policymakers exploit the characteristics of an intangible age to grow our companies and economies?



Selected for:

From the Reviews:

  • "An intriguing book. . . . Perhaps the most surprising facts in a book full of surprises is how large investments in intangible assets--in research and development, software, databases, artistic creations, designs, branding and business processes--now are. . . . Messrs Haskel and Westlake have mapped the economics of a challenging new economy."--Martin Wolf, Financial Times 
  • "One of this year's most important and stimulating economic reads. . . . Read this book."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution 
  • "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 
  • “RICH economies are full of puzzles. What has caused them to become so unequal? Why is their rate of business investment so low? When will real wages start growing strongly again? In “Capitalism without Capital”,… Haskel and Westlake… offer an intriguing explanation for all these problems. In the process, they introduce a phrase that readers may hear a great deal more of in the coming years: “intangible investment”  --The Economist