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 with deliverables that students will be held accountable for completing. 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;
  • Depending on how many people express interest in enrolling, we will choose a more versus less intensive structure for the class.


  • Readings (where publicly available), the current version of the syllabus, assignments, and class slides are available through the course website;
  • There are no “official” office hours; please feel free to make appointments with us individually. 

One goal of this course is to create a community among individuals with similar research interests across universities. During the course, a slack channel will be set up to enable more opportunities for both instructors and students, and students themselves, to connect informally.

If you have any questions, please contact

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 Labor Markets and the Supply of Innovators December 6 Ina Ganguli
Class 6 Wrap-Up: Research Opportunities, Data, and Methods December 13 Heidi Williams

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.

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.

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.

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

Class 5

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.

Class 6

Wrap-Up: Research Opportunities, Data, and Methods

Heidi Williams

  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.