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Review of Austrian Economics, 13: 147–174 (2000) c ○ 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers Capital as Embodied Knowledge: Some Implications for the Theory of Economic Growth

By Howard Baetjer


Abstract. Capital goods are embodied knowledge of how to produce. Therefore, capital development is a learning process, through which knowledge gets embodied in new capital goods. Because the necessary knowledge is dispersed among many people who must interact to communicate their particular, often tacit knowledge, capital development is a social process. Because this interaction takes time and continually changes the capital structure, capital development is an on-going process. Capital development is a social learning process. Neither traditional nor “new ” growth theory illuminates how the capital structure evolves. Traditional growth theory, by modeling capital as single variable in the production function, ignores the heterogeneity of capital goods and their varied structural relationships of complementarity, substitutability, feedback, and feed-forward. New growth theory, while accounting for technological change, still treats capital as aggregable and thus implicitly homogeneous. That capital development is a learning process suggests that growth rates can increase. What prevents exponential growth is neither diminishing returns nor upper bounds to human capital, as growth models assume. It is the constant challenge of maintaining capital complementarities in a world of incomplete and rapidly changing knowledge. JEL classification: O40 and O30. I

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