Course Overview

This course begins by establishing fundamental ways in which ideas differ from other goods. The course then uses these concepts to evaluate the origins of economic growth, the role of science and science institutions, innovation incentives (through market structure, intellectual property, and organizational practices), the diffusion of innovations and their implications for inequality, and the geography of innovation. Though squarely anchored in the economics discipline, the course will also draw on the sociology of science, particularly classic Mertonian frameworks for understanding the scientific incentive system, scientific labor markets, and scientific norms.

The course will introduce both macroeconomic and microeconomic approaches for assessing the “ideas production function,” with special attention to the roles of human capital, institutions, and incentive systems. The course emphasizes how the unusual characteristics of ideas can result in social inefficiency, and how the microeconomic and institutional environment influences the gap between private and social welfare. Altogether, in tandem with theoretical approaches, this course substantially reviews core empirical literature, including a modern array of methods and data sets that are suited to studying ideas and innovation, and aims to provide students with an extensive toolkit to undertake innovation research.

Who can register for the course?

Our target audience is current or recent students who have completed at least one year of a PhD program in economics or related fields. Acceptance, however, is not guaranteed. To register, we ask for (1) a very short statement (not a recommendation letter) from an academic advisor or administrator on his/her official letterhead certifying that you are regularly enrolled in a PhD program; and (2) a one-page summary of a paper broadly in the innovation field which you particularly liked together with some brief remarks on why the paper inspired you to want to learn more about the economics of ideas, science, and  innovation. Such a paper does not have to be listed in this syllabus, should be relatively recent, and should not include any of the course coordinators as an author.


  • In spite of the fact that the course will be delivered on Zoom, this is not a MOOC, but rather is a real course; participation is expected. Registration will be free, but attendance and engagement is required. It is the responsibility of students to secure a quiet location, with adequate internet access, and to turn (and leave) their webcam on.  If you are interested in the material but unable to commit to attending each session, faculty will be making slides publicly available on our course website.
  • This is a pilot meant partly to assess demand for such a course.

Course Logistics

The course has four main components:

  1. Weekly zoom lectures
  2. Weekly small group paper reading clubs
  3. Online happy hours
  4. Class slack channel

Zoom Lectures

There will be six weekly zoom lectures, Tuesdays 1:30 PM ET-4:30 PM ET on Tuesday November 1, 8, 15, 29 and December 6, 13. We want our lectures to be participatory, and so ask students to attend with cameras on, ready to discuss the readings. Specifically, reading groups will be assigned specific papers to read, and we will call on group members during lecture to discuss papers. Lectures will not be recorded, though we will post slides.

Small Group Paper Reading Clubs

You will be assigned to a group of 3-4 students in nearby timezones. Each week, we will assign a paper to your group. You should arrange to meet via zoom with your group prior to class to discuss this paper. This discussion should center on:

  • What question is the paper trying to answer?
  • Why should we care?
  • How does the paper try to answer this question?
  • What do you think the paper did well?
  • What criticisms do you have of the paper?

We will call on groups during lecture to discuss the papers they read.

Online Happy Hours

There will be five opportunities to meet with some of the course instructors in a smaller group setting online. 

  • Monday, November 7th at 3pm PT with Benjamin Jones
  • Wednesday, November 9th at 12pm PT with Matt Clancy
  • Thursday, December 1st at 2pm PT with Pierre Azoulay
  • Thursday, December 8th at 8am PT with Ina Ganguli
  • Wednesday, December 14th at 1pm PT with Caleb Watney (co-founder, Institute for Progress), Matt Clancy, and Heidi Williams

We will cap the number of attendees at each of these events at 20. You should rank your preference over these meetings using the pre-class survey you will have received in your email. Note attendance of these happy hours is optional.

Class Slack Channel

Upon completion of the pre-class survey, you should receive an invitation to sign up for the course slack channel. We hope you will use this to communicate with the instructors and other students in a more informal setting than will be possible during the course lectures. In lieu of office hours, please post questions and comments about the course content directly to the slack channel, which the instructors will be monitoring.

Other Details

The course website remains We will be posting course slides here, as well as our reading list. 

If you have any questions about the course in general, please contact us at

Schedule at a Glance

Class 1 Course Overview and Macroeconomic Foundations November 1 Benjamin Jones
Class 2 Open Science as an Economic Institution November 8 Matt Clancy
Class 3 Innovation Policies, including the US Patent System November 15 Heidi Williams
Class 4 Contracting and Control Rights for Innovation November 29 Pierre Azoulay
Class 5 Research Opportunities, Data, and Methods December 6 Heidi Williams
Class 6 Labor Markets and the Supply of Innovators December 13 Ina Ganguli

Class 1

Course Overview and Macroeconomic Foundations

Benjamin Jones

Arrow, Kenneth. 1962. “Economic Welfare and the Allocation of Resources for Invention.” In The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity: Economic and Social Factors, pp. 609-625. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jones, Charles I. 2001. Chapter 4 and 5, pp. 78-86 and 96-122 in Introduction to Economic Growth. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Jones, Benjamin F. and Lawrence H. Summers. 2021. “A Calculation of the Social Returns to Innovation.” In Innovation and Public Policy, University of Chicago Press.

Bloom, Nicholas, Mark Schankerman, and John Van Reenen. 2013. “Identifying Technology Spillovers and Product Market Rivalry.” Econometrica 81(4): 1347-1393.

Jones, Benjamin F. 2009. “The Burden of Knowledge and the ‛Death of the Renaissance Man’: Is Innovation Getting Harder?” Review of Economic Studies 76(1): 283-317.

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Class 2

Open Science as an Economic Institution

Matt Clancy

Aghion, Philippe, Mathias Dewatripont, and Jeremy C. Stein. 2008. “Academic Freedom, Private Sector Focus, and the Process of Innovation.” RAND Journal of Economics 39(3): 617-635.

Ahmadpoor, Mohammad, and Benjamin F. Jones. 2017. “The Dual Frontier: Patented Inventions and Prior Scientific Advance.” Science 357(6531): 583-587.

Azoulay, Pierre, Christian Fons-Rosen, and Joshua S. Graff Zivin. 2019. “Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?” American Economic Review 109(8): 2889-2920.

Dasgupta, Partha, and Paul David. 1994. “Towards a New Economics of Science.” Research Policy 23(5): 487-521.

Myers, Kyle. 2020. “The Elasticity of Science.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 12(4): 103-134.

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Class 3

Innovation Policies, including the US Patent System

Heidi Williams

Bloom, Nicholas, John Van Reenen and Heidi Williams. 2019. “A Toolkit of Policies to promote Innovation” Journal of Economic Perspectives 33(3) 163–184

Budish, Eric, Benjamin Roin, and Heidi Williams. 2015. “Do firms underinvest in long-term research? Evidence from cancer clinical trials,” American Economic Review 105(7): 2044-2085.

Galasso, Alberto and Mark Schankerman. 2015. “Patents and Cumulative Innovation: Causal Evidence from the Courts,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 130(1): 317–69.

Gallini, Nancy and Suzanne Scotchmer. 2001. “Intellectual Property: When is it the Best Incentive System?” Innovation Policy and the Economy Volume 2, Adam Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, (editors), Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Lisa L. Ouellette. 2012. “Do Patents Disclose Useful Information?” Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 25(2): 531-593.

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Class 4

Contracting and Control Rights for Innovation

Pierre Azoulay

Aghion, Philippe, and Jean Tirole. 1994. “The Management of Innovation.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 109(4): 1185-1209.

Azoulay, Pierre, Joshua Graff Zivin, and Gustavo Manso. 2011. “Incentives and Creativity: Evidence from the Academic Life Sciences.” RAND Journal of Economics 42(3): 527-554.

Lerner, Joshua, and Ulrike Malmendier. 2010. “Contractibility and the Design of Research Agreements.” American Economic Review 100(1): 214-246.

Manso, Gustavo. 2011. “Motivating Innovation.” Journal of Finance 66(5): 1823-1860

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Class 5

Research Opportunities, Data, and Methods

Heidi Williams

Class 6

Labor Markets and the Supply of Innovators

Ina Ganguli

Bell, Alexander M., Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, and John Van Reenen. 2019. “Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 134(2): 647-713.

Biasi, Barbara, David J. Deming, and Petra Moser. 2021. “Education and Innovation.” NBER Working Paper #28544.

Doran, K., Gelber, A. and Isen, A., 2022. The effects of high-skilled immigration policy on firms: Evidence from visa lotteries. Journal of Political Economy.

Marx, Matt, Deborah Strumsky, and Lee Fleming. 2009. “Mobility, Skills, and the Michigan Non-Compete Experiment.” Management Science 55 (6): 875–889.

Waldinger, Fabian, 2016. “Bombs, Brains, and Science: The Role of Human and Physical Capital for the Production of Scientific Knowledge,” The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 98, no. 5, pp. 811-831, 2016.

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  1. Key Dates

    The course will consist of six three-hour synchronous zoom lectures on Tuesday November 1, 8, 15, 29 and December 6, 13 from 1:30-4:30pm EST.