Carlota Perez Papers
“Structural Change and Assimilation of New Technologies in the Economic and Social Systems”. Futures Oct, 1983, pp. 357-375
Published in 1983, this is the first paper published by Carlota Perez that deals extensively with her developing theories on the causal mechanisms behind economic cycles, and the inter-relationship between the diffusion of new technologies and economic development. The article works with the Kondratiev-Schumpeter notion of long waves (i.e. long-term upswings and downswings in economic growth) led by technology, but posits that these are not only techno-economic but involve a radical structural reshaping of society and its institutions. The notion of a paradigm shift in best practice is introduced, along with the idea that each revolution has a ‘key factor’ as driver: a new input which reduces the costs of capital, labour and products while changing them qualitatively. The article also suggests that the components of a new revolution come together when the previous one approaches exhaustion, but that while this new technology has a role in defining the space of the possible, it is society that shapes the deployment of its potential.
Perez had yet to challenge the weakness in Schumpeter and Kondratiev’s dating system – or indeed the whole concept of the long wave itself; nor did she examine the role of finance, or foresee the crucial infrastructure role played by the Internet (which was not yet in the public domain). Yet based on her historical analysis of the patterns of structural change, she made predictions regarding the changing distribution of jobs, the supranational direction of the economy, the shift to flexible production, the move from homogenisation to variety and diversity, and the increasing importance of sustainability that seem remarkably prescient in the current moment. The fact that, in the late 1970s (when the research for this article was undertaken), it was already possible to see so much of the nature and consequences of the ICT revolution, underlines the benefits of historical research to our understanding of the present.