Long Waves: The History of Innovation Cycles
Long Waves: How Innovation Cycles Influence Growth
Creative destruction plays a key role in entrepreneurship and economic development.
Coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942, the theory of “creative destruction” suggests that business cycles operate under long waves of innovation. Specifically, as markets are disrupted, key clusters of industries have outsized effects on the economy.
Take the railway industry, for example. At the turn of the 19th century, railways completely reshaped urban demographics and trade. Similarly, the internet disrupted entire industries—from media to retail.
The above infographic shows how innovation cycles have impacted economies since 1785, and what’s next for the future.
Innovation Cycles: The Six Waves
From the first wave of textiles and water power in the industrial revolution, to the internet in the 1990s, here are the six waves of innovation and their key breakthroughs.
|First Wave||Second Wave||Third Wave||Fourth Wave||Fifth Wave||Sixth Wave|
|Digitization (AI, IoT, AV,
Robots & Drones)
|60 years||55 years||50 years||40 years||30 years||25 years|
Source: Edelsen Institute, Detlef Reis
During the first wave of the Industrial Revolution, water power was instrumental in manufacturing paper, textiles, and iron goods. Unlike the mills of the past, full-sized dams fed turbines through complex belt systems. Advances in textiles brought the first factory, and cities expanded around them.
With the second wave, between about 1845 and 1900, came significant rail, steam, and steel advancements. The rail industry alone affected countless industries, from iron and oil to steel and copper. In turn, great railway monopolies were formed.
The emergence of electricity powering light and telephone communication through the third wave dominated the first half of the 1900s. Henry Ford introduced the Model T, and the assembly line transformed the auto industry. Automobiles became closely linked with the expansion of the American metropolis. Later, in the fourth wave, aviation revolutionized travel.
After the internet emerged by the early 1990s, barriers to information were upended. New media changed political discourse, news cycles, and communication in the fifth wave. The internet ushered in a new frontier of globalization, a borderless landscape of digital information flows.
To the economist Schumpeter, technological innovations boosted economic growth and improved living standards.
However, these disruptors can also have a tendency to lead to monopolies. Especially during a cycle’s upswing, the strongest players realize wide margins, establish moats, and fend off rivals. Typically, these cycles begin when the innovations become of general use.
Of course, this can be seen today—never has the world been so closely connected. Information is more centralized than it has ever been, with Big Tech dominating global search traffic, social networks, and advertising.
Like the Big Tech behemoths of today, the rail industry had the power to control prices and push out competitors during the 19th century. At the peak, listed shares of rail companies on the New York Stock Exchange made up 60% of total stock market capitalization.
Waves of Change
As cycle longevity continues to shorten, the fifth wave may have a few years left under its belt.
The sixth wave, marked by artificial intelligence and digitization across information of things (IoT), robotics, and drones, will likely paint an entirely new picture. Namely, the automation of systems, predictive analytics, and data processing could make an impact. In turn, physical goods and services will likely be digitized. The time to complete tasks could shift from hours to even seconds.
At the same time, clean tech could come to the forefront. At the heart of each technological innovation is solving complex problems, and climate concerns are becoming increasingly pressing. Lower costs in solar PV and wind are also predicating efficiency advantages.
Ranked: America’s Largest Semiconductor Companies
This graphic visualizes the market capitalizations of America’s 15 largest semiconductor companies.
Ranking America’s Largest Semiconductor Companies
As our world moves further into an era of widespread digitization, few industries can be considered as important as semiconductors.
These components are found in almost everything we use on a daily basis, and the ability to produce them domestically has become a topic of national security. For example, in 2022 the Biden administration announced the CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to strengthen America’s position in everything from clean energy to artificial intelligence.
With this in mind, we’ve ranked the top 15 U.S. semiconductor companies by their market capitalizations.
Data and Highlights
The data we used to create this infographic is listed in the table below. Year-to-date (YTD) returns were included for additional context. Both metrics are as of May 30, 2023.
|Rank||Company||Ticker||Market Cap (USD billions)||YTD Return|
|13||Marvell Technology Group||MRVL||$54||76.2%|
At the top is Nvidia, which became America’s newest $1 trillion company on Tuesday, May 30th. Shares pulled back slightly over the day and Nvidia closed at $992 billion. Over the past decade, Nvidia has transformed from a gaming-focused graphics card producer to a global leader in AI and data center chips.
In third and sixth place are two of America’s most well known chipmakers, AMD and Intel. These longtime rivals are moving in opposite trajectories, with AMD shares climbing 770% over the past five years, and Intel shares falling 47%. One reason for this is the data center segment, in which AMD appears to be stealing market share from Intel.
Further down the list we see Applied Materials in seventh, and Lam Research in ninth. Both firms specialize in semiconductor manufacturing equipment and thus play an important role in the industry’s supply chain.
Trade War Impacts
As tensions between the U.S. and China escalate, chipmakers are becoming increasingly entangled in geopolitical conflict.
In October 2022, the Biden administration introduced new export controls aimed at blocking China’s access to semiconductors produced with U.S. equipment. This impacted several companies in our top 15 list, including Lam Research and Applied Materials.
Shortly after the export controls were announced, Lam Research said it expected to lose upwards of $2.5 billion in annual revenues.
We lost some very profitable customers in the China region, and that’s going to persist, obviously.
– Doug Bettinger, CFO, Lam Research
In response, China announced in May 2023 that it would no longer allow America’s largest memory chipmaker, Micron, to sell its products to “critical national infrastructure operators”.
This is not the first time Micron has been involved in a controversy with China. In 2018, the firm alleged that Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit, a Chinese state-owned company, had solicited a Micron employee to steal specifications for memory chips. The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export restrictions on Fujian Jinhua as a result.
Chipmakers on both sides of the Pacific will be closely watching as competition between these two countries heats up.
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