Economic complexity offers a potentially powerful paradigm to understand key societal issues and challenges of our time. The underlying idea is that growth, development, technological change, income inequality, spatial disparities, and resilience are the visible outcomes of hidden systemic interactions. The study of economic complexity seeks to understand the structure of these interactions and how they shape various socioeconomic processes. This emerging field relies heavily on big data and machine learning techniques. This brief introduction to economic complexity has three aims. The first is to summarize key theoretical foundations and principles of economic complexity. The second is to briefly review the tools and metrics developed in the economic complexity literature that exploit information encoded in the structure of the economy to find new empirical patterns. The final aim is to highlight the insights from economic complexity to improve prediction and political decision-making. Institutions including the World Bank, the European Commission, the World Economic Forum, the OECD, and a range of national and regional organizations have begun to embrace the principles of economic complexity and its analytical framework. We discuss policy implications of this field, in particular the usefulness of building recommendation systems for major public investment decisions in a complex world.
The degree to which modern technologies are able to substitute for groups of job tasks has renewed fears of near-future technological unemployment. We argue that our knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) go beyond the specific tasks we do at the job, making us potentially more adaptable to technological change than feared. The disruptiveness of new technologies depends on the relationships between the job tasks susceptible to automation and our KSA. Here we first demonstrate that KSA are general human capital features while job tasks are not, suggesting that human capital is more transferrable across occupations than what job tasks would predict. In spite of this, we document a worrying pattern where automation is not randomly distributed across the KSA space – it is concentrated among occupations that share similar KSA. As a result, workers in these occupations are making longer skill transitions when changing occupations and have higher probability of unemployment.
The fact that firms benefit from close proximity to other firms with which they can exchange inputs, skilled labor or know-how helps explain why many industrial clusters are so successful. Studying the evolution of coagglomeration patterns, we show that which type of agglomeration benefits firms has drastically changed over the course of a century and differs markedly across industries. Whereas, at the beginning of the twentieth century, industries tended to colocate with their value chain partners, in more recent decades the importance of this channels has declined and colocation seems to be driven more by similarities industries' skill requirements. By calculating industry-specific Marshallian agglomeration forces, we are able to show that, nowadays, skill-sharing is the most salient motive in location choices of services, whereas value chain linkages still explain much of the colocation patterns in manufacturing. Moreover, the estimated degrees to which labor and input-output linkages are reflected in an industry's coagglomeration patterns help improve predictions of city-industry employment growth.
We document the heterogeneity across sectors in the impact labor and input-output links have on industry agglomeration. Exploiting the available degrees of freedom in coagglomeration patterns, we estimate the industry-specic benefits of sharing labor needs and supply links with local firms. On aggregate, coagglomeration patterns of services are at least as strongly driven by input-output linkages as those of manufacturing, whereas labor linkages are much more potent drivers of coagglomeration in services than in manufacturing. Moreover, the degree to which labor and input-output linkages are reflected in an industry's coagglomeration patterns is relevant for predicting patterns of city-industry employment growth.