Economists concerned about slowing productivity have spent the past decade hotly debating the value of free digital services such as Google’s web search and Amazon’s online store. But those online services have proven their worth during the pandemic. And COVID-19 may ultimately push our society to learn new ways of using digital technologies that accelerate productivity growth.
Over the past year I’ve been occasionally bombarded with tweets casting doubt on the value of software companies. The allegation that online services didn’t help with the pandemic came on top of a preexisting concern — prevalent among some economist, as well as critics of the technology industry — that these services add little to the real economy.
But let’s do a scary little thought experiment. Try to imagine what 2020 would have been like without Google, Amazon, Zoom, Slack or any of the other online services. It’s pretty terrifying.
First, because Amazon