Past eventResearch Event

Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy

13 February 2018 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Chatham House, London


Jonathan Haskel, Co-author, Capitalism without Capital; Professor of Economics, Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London
Stian Westlake, Co-author, Capitalism without Capital; Executive Director of Research, Nesta
Chair: Matthew Oxenford, Research Associate, Global Economy & Finance Department, Chatham House



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 such as 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.

At this event, Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake will present their recently published book Capitalism without Capital which 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, they 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 intangible assets, 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.

This event is part of the Global Economy and Finance Department’s New Perspectives in Economic Thinking Series where distinguished, innovative authors and commentators writing on international economic topics discuss their most recent work.