Phd Doctor in economics and management
Faculty of Legal, Economic and Social Sciences
Mohammed First University -Oujda–
Laboratory for Economic, Econometric and Managerial Research
06 43 28 51 0021256
Phd student in economics and management
Faculty of Legal, Economic and Social Sciences. Mohammed First University -Oujda–
Laboratory of Economy Social and Solidarity and Local Development
06 62 19 46 002125
The economic sphere (monetary and financial) has evolved throughout the history of economic thought. These evolutions, perceived at the level of the different economic phases, explain the interest in studying and codifying the characteristics of each phase; hence the codification of the shift in the driving forces of the economy via the passage from a material to an immaterial economy.
The specific characteristics of intangible capital enable this wealth to permeate the entire economic sphere (monetary and financial). It generates characteristics. It can be identified with a specific codification (4S) and produces other codification variables. It is an artefact, the final service or product, the object of consumption. It can take on the dimension of an ̏ asset ̏ as a factor of production; the intermediate product an economy uses to produce a good or service for consumption. The community of economists gives it the name ̏ intangible assets. The four dimensions of immaterial capital are called the logic of the dematerialization of the economy: generator, artefact, ̏ asset ̏ and logic. This article answers the following question:
To what extent do the various economic dimensions of intangible capital enable the codification and creation of wealth?
Keywords: Intangible capital, generating, artefact, ̏assets, logic
الأبعاد الاقتصادية الأربعة للنمو
دكتوراه في الاقتصاد والإدارة
كلية العلوم القانونية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية
جامعة محمد الأول -وجدة–
مختبر البحوث الاقتصادية والاقتصادية القياسية والإدارية
طالب دكتوراه في الاقتصاد والإدارة
كلية العلوم القانونية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية. جامعة محمد الأول -وجدة–
مخبر الاقتصاد الاجتماعي والتضامن والتنمية المحلية
لقد تطور المجال الاقتصادي (النقدي والمالي) عبر تاريخ الفكر الاقتصادي. وتفسر هذه التطورات على مستوى المراحل الاقتصادية المختلفة الاهتمام بدراسة وتقنين خصائص كل مرحلة؛ ومن هنا جاء تدوين التحول في القوى الدافعة للاقتصاد عبر الانتقال من الاقتصاد المادي إلى الاقتصاد غير المادي.
إن الخصائص المحددة لرأس المال غير الملموس تمكن هذه الثروة من التغلغل في المجال الاقتصادي بأكمله (النقدي والمالي). يولد الخصائص. ويمكن تحديدها بترميز محدد (4S) وإنتاج متغيرات تدوين أخرى. إنها قطعة أثرية، خدمة أو منتج نهائي، موضوع للاستهلاك. ويمكن أن يتخذ بُعد «الأصل» كعامل إنتاج؛ المنتج الوسيط الذي يستخدمه الاقتصاد لإنتاج سلعة أو خدمة للاستهلاك. يطلق عليها مجتمع الاقتصاديين الاسم ̏ الأصول غير الملموسة. تسمى الأبعاد الأربعة لرأس المال غير المادي بمنطق تجريد الاقتصاد من المادة: المولد، والقطعة الأثرية، ̏ الأصول ̏ والمنطق. يجيب هذا المقال على السؤال التالي:
إلى أي مدى تمكن الأبعاد الاقتصادية المختلفة لرأس المال غير الملموس من تقنين وتكوين الثروة؟
الكلمات المفتاحية: رأس المال غير الملموس، التوليد، المصنوعات، الأصول، المنطق
The economic sphere (monetary and financial) has evolved throughout the history of economic thought. These evolutions, perceived at the level of the different economic phases, explain the interest in studying and codifying the characteristics of each phase; hence the codification of the shift in the driving forces of the economy via the passage from a material to an immaterial economy (Zoheir, A., & El arabi, A. 2022a; 2022b; 2023).
The international economy is transforming production, with a shift in the driving forces of the economy. This shift, from tangible to intangible production, explains the growing interest in studying intangible capital to steer long-term development. Intangible capital is an innovative and complex concept. Its multi-dimensional scope and the complexity of identifying, measuring and allocating it in the productive fabric of economies make it hard to pin down using data from traditional accounting systems. The approach based on the concept of intangible capital has the merit of offering a framework for assimilating the dynamics and process of wealth creation at the macroeconomic level, identifying its internal and external drivers and, by extension, optimizing the process of designing and implementing economic and development policies.
For Haskel and Westlake (2018), intangible capital components such as knowledge, social relationships and trust are fundamentally different from physical assets, i.e. machines and buildings.
Immaterial wealth has specific characteristics that differ from material wealth. This difference is explained by the fact that this good is not depleted when it is consumed by an economic agent or when it is allocated in a productive process (ConseilÉconomique, Social et Environnemental, 2019; ConseilÉconomique, Sociale et Environnemental& Bank Al-Maghrib 2016)
As a paradigm, intangible capital is considered a non-rival good, since it can be used by a whole range of economic agents. Consumption of intangible capital does not affect the quantity/quality of this good available to all economic agents. On the other hand, the consumption of a rival good reduces the quantity of the latter’s available stock for other economic agents (Corrado& al., 2020).
Recent research has reported disappointing results in international labour productivity growth since the onset of the crisis, from 2008 to 2015 (Van Ark &Jäger, 2017). According to this literature, the low economic wealth creation can be explained by a slower diffusion of technology and innovation due to low growth rates in information and communication technologies (ICT) and complementary intangible capital investments (Van Ark &Jäger, 2017).
The economic policies implemented since the late 1990s have led to new growth mechanisms. The economic growth rate was 3% from 1990 to 1998, fell to 3.9% from 1999 to 2005 and stabilized at 4.6% from 2006 to 2013, but the international environment was difficult. From 1998 to 2013, this proportion averaged 4.5%2. However, this remains below 6%, a level deemed necessary to initiate a process of autonomous wealth creation capable of raising the population’s standard of living (Institut Royal des ĖtudesStratégiques, 2015; 2020).
The specific characteristics of intangible capital enable this wealth to permeate the entire economic sphere (monetary and financial). It generates characteristics. It can be identified with a specific codification (4S) and produces other codification variables. It is an artefact, the final service or product, the object of consumption. It can take on the dimension of an ̏ asset ̏ as a factor of production; the intermediate product an economy uses to produce a good or service for consumption. The community of economists gives it the name ̏ intangible assets ̏ (Baculard & Julia, 2011; Cappelletti, 2012). The four dimensions of immaterial capital are called the logic of the dematerialization of the economy: generator, artefact, ̏ asset ̏ and logic.
This article answers the following question: To what extent do the various economic dimensions of intangible capital enable the codification and creation of wealth?
To address this issue, this article presents the various specific dimensions of intangible capital. This wealth differs not only from material wealth through the 4S but also on its dimensions namely: generator, logic, ̏ assets ̏ and artefact. They are the main approaches to differentiating material and immaterial wealth. As a result, we will determine the specific dimensions of intangible capital that would stimulate economic growth.
II- The four economic dimensions of intangible capital
1- The generating effect of intangible capital
One of the dimensions of intangible capital is that the 4S of this form of wealth allow the components of intangible capital to merge, and can produce two other characteristics: uncertainty and contestation.
- Uncertainty and irreversibility
Investment in intangible capital can generate uncertainty. Economic agents cannot be certain of the return on their investment. This is why external financing is more complex (Haskel& Westlake, 2018).
Of course, unlike a choice of factors that is perfectly flexible and adjustable over time, decisions to invest in intangible capital are marked by a certain inertia, and by the fear it generates in the long term (Demmou, 2021).
This fear is the result of the correlation between uncertainty and the irreversibility produced by investment in intangible capital. This irreversibility may well be a source of inertia in the adjustment of intangible capital. Irreversibility results from an asymmetry between the cost of investing in intangible capital and the cost of divesting it: “It may stem as much from the differentiated costs of installing and dismantling equipment as from the sunk cost of training personnel, the cost of monitoring when a production unit is decommissioned, or from imperfect secondary markets” (Bourdieu, Coeuré&Sédillot, 1997, p. 28).
This irreversibility can take various forms in the adjustment cost function: either we assume that the investment decision induces a fixed cost independent of the volume of capital to be installed, or we consider, which amounts to the same thing, that the purchase cost of each unit of capital differs from its resale cost (Damoah, 2017).
The irreversibility of intangible capital investment occurs when the realization of an investment significantly reduces the choices available for the future. This is the case, for example, of choices whose counterpart is the irremediable destruction of natural resources or immaterial capital (cultural capital) (Polat, 2017).
Similarly, the increase in uncertainty may be due to their risk of sunk cost; investments in intangible capital are worth less if adverse events occur. Recovering their value becomes more complex.
When the economic, financial and social sphere is in a period of crisis, intangible capital could lose its value and the cost of financing would be higher. On the other hand, when the economic structure is running smoothly, the value of intangible capital tends to be appreciated (UNCTAD, 2019).
The decision to invest in intangible capital is, by its very nature, a gamble on the future. It implies a lasting commitment by an economy to production (wealth creation). However, the greater the uncertainty, the bolder the investment. At a time when adapting to uncertainty is increasingly seen as a challenge for economies (Bourdieu, Coeuré&Sédillot, 1997).
It’s not a question of replacing a narrow distribution of possible outcomes with a broader one. The tendency of investments in intangible capital to have a spillover effect assesses future returns more complex. Similarly, the absence of markets for certain intangible capital indicators (which increases the risk of recovering their investment and financing costs) makes it more difficult to put forward a more accurate and realistic estimate of their value (Dixit &Pindyck, 1995).
However, the value of investing in intangible capital is potentially beneficial, since it is more likely to be scalable (a modest investment can generate a substantial return). Haskel& Westlake (2018) present the example of an investment in intangible capital whose sunk cost risk progresses in stages. They consider that at each stage, the economic agent learns more about the relevance and feasibility of his investment. When uncertainty persists, and if the opportunity to invest may arise again at a later date, it is more useful for investors to wait.
The authors use the example of a sunk intangible investment project in technological innovation, which is built up in two stages. The first stage has a significant cost; it provides information on the profitability of the second. The present value calculation in their example reveals that the first stage is unprofitable because of its high sunk costs. But if we also introduce uncertainty resolution, the first step can be profitable, since it creates an option. The possibility of deciding to move on to the second stage and invest in intangible capital proves relevant, even if it doesn’t create added value directly as an asset in the first stage, what Corrado and Hulten (2010) call a strategic property.
- Contesting intangible capital
Intangible capital also tends to be contested. Households and institutions are often contested as to who can control, own or benefit from them. This is due in part to their characteristic synergy effect. As we have shown, certain economic agents often seek to exploit the intangible capital investments of other economies. This can be done by mutual consent (for example, when economies engage in open innovation). However, when certain institutions develop a new product on the market, certain competitors in the same sector can produce euphoric behaviour.
This contestation is reinforced by the complexity and ambiguity of the rules governing ownership of intangible capital investments. As a result, economies are in a competitive situation following the patenting of innovations, since ownership of intangible capital goods is less well-established and less clearly defined than that of tangible capital goods (Haskel and Westlake, 2018).
Synergies between intangible capital components can exacerbate contestation between different economic agents in the same or different industries. However, certain mergers, interactions and combinations between the components of intangible capital have a specific value, with economic agents who have in their assets the social, human or knowledge capital needed to forge these relationships.
2- Approaching intangible capital as an artefact
Intangible capital artefacts are flows of images, data, signs, information, knowledge and so on. They can be identified as instruments of a certain complexity. According to Goldfinger (1994), the artefacts of immaterial capital do not represent the necessities of protection, food and so on. Their consumption is discretionary, essentially a matter of free will rather than economic or physiological obligation. The artefacts of intangible capital refer to concepts of different kinds.
We can illustrate this by the fact that artefacts of immaterial capital exploit the added value created by technological innovations and information and communication techniques (ICTs) to produce space-time that frees itself from the bonds of geographical proximity and temporal succession. Trust between institutions and between individuals can now be established at a distance. International financial transactions are carried out virtually, without the need for physical proximity between economic agents. The production, exchange and consumption of the various components of intangible capital can take place between two agents economic agents, at any time of the day.
Physical quantities and the relationships between them become flexible, freeing us from rigidity and complexity. In this approach, the notion of time and the effect of memory are no longer elusive or irreversible. Following our example, and thanks to the artefacts of immaterial capital, economic agents can store and manipulate physical quantities at will. Immaterial artefacts enable and stimulate gender association. As we demonstrated in the previous section, immaterial capital produces a polarizing characteristic. The artefacts of immaterial capital make it possible to combine notions that the scientific community in different disciplinary fields considers to be opposed and antagonistic. These oppositions and the reconciliation of notions can be presented as follows (Goldfinger, 1994):
The ephemeral and the lasting
The unique and repetitive
The artificial and the natural
The individual and the collective
Popular and elitist
Passive and interactive
Simultaneity and multiplication
3- Dimension according to an ̏ assets of the immaterial economy
The dematerialization of consumption is accompanied by a dematerialization of the organization of institutions and states. It is also accompanied by an exponential rise in ̏ intangible ̏ assets. Institutional trust, knowledge and social justice represent fundamental assets at the macroeconomic level. For Leadbeater (1990) “Development will no longer depend critically on improving the productivity of tangible and material factors. Competition will increasingly focus on the immaterial. It is a technological innovation that now gives companies and their products a competitive edge”. Investment in these ̏assets ̏ constitutes one of the preferred levers for the creation of intangible wealth, and by ricochet, guarantees a certain level of development for states.
- The preferred levers of ̏ intangible assets
Imperfectly taken into account by accounting at the level of companies and states, ̏ intangible assets ̏ nevertheless constitute (much more than ̏ tangible assets ̏ a privileged lever for action to increase added value. Nevertheless, ̏ intangible assets ̏ raise controversies. Admittedly, their importance to the economy is recognized by international institutions. In this sense, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Ėconomique (1992, p. 115) argues that despite the conceptual difficulties and practices in the definition of intangibles and the adaptation of accounting rules that would enable them to be taken into account more adequately, the economic contribution of intangible investment to performance and competitiveness means that they must be progressively absorbed into accounting systems.
The study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Ėconomique (1992) suggests two rules for recognizing ̏ intangible ̏assets:
Intangible assets must be separable, i.e., the economic agent must be able to dissociate them from all other available assets without creating a risk for economic activities ;
The value of ̏ intangible asset ̏ must be determined by two methods: either by its purchase cost by the allocation of a share of the overall cost or by the cost of production.
These rules may present ambiguity and complexity in terms of their practical implementations, but also in terms of the relevance of dissociation, since, like intangible artifacts, ̏ intangible assets ̏ constitute linked goods. Their interactions can produce added value, including the reconciliation of human, institutional and technological capital.
This institution further extends the reasoning regarding the relationship between the production of an ̏intangible asset ̏ and its cost of financing. The dilemma arises between the cost to be borne by economic agents investing in an ̏intangible asset ̏ and the relationship with its value on the market.
The value of ̏ intangible assets ̏ is often determined externally. The market for the purchase or sale of economic and financial institutions or goods sets the price of the intangible. In the case of patents and licenses, legal arbitration frequently determines their value. In both cases, the valuation of ̏ the intangible asset ̏ is based not on the costs allocated to its production but above all on the anticipation of future returns. In this sense, the difference can be significant.
Physical assets can depreciate over time. The intensive use of these assets can be a factor in diminishing their returns and economic utility as more efficient assets become available. At this level, traditional accounting codifies this depreciation in a simplistic way that reflects economic reality. For ̏ intangible assets, however, the gap between accounting treatment and economic reality proves substantial. Some ̏ assets ̏ can be appreciated with use and duration.
At the institutional level, consumer brands and labels are ̏ assets ̏ whose value would tend to appreciate. As a result, the depreciation of an ̏ intangible asset ̏ is no longer linked to its material wear and tear. The relationship is not always linear and is complex to anticipate.
The balance sheet of a state or institution is not intended to be widely distributed. Some ̏ intangible ̏assets are not visible and do not appear on the balance sheet until after recognition from the external environment of economies, notably the image of countries and brands, as well as the quality of economic decision-makers, which explains the visibility of the economic sectors that produce or participate in asset management.
- Heterogeneity of ̏ intangible ̏ assets
The complexity of ̏ intangible assets ̏ is essentially due to their heterogeneity. For certain ̏ intangible assets, such as research and development, detailed rules for accounting treatment exist, even if their arbitrary characters are widely recognized. Some categories ̏ of intangible assets ̏ partially or escape the framework of traditional accounting, but they can be captured, codified, analyzed and valued. This is notably the case for a country’s image, its competitiveness, product branding and, intellectual property.
Some ̏ intangible assets ̏ have been bold enough to determine structured approaches to definition, determinations and valuation, namely intellectual property and branding. These two categories ̏ of intangible assets ̏ are based on specific know-how for an institution or for the state. Producing a complementary effect, these two categories ̏ of intangible assets ̏ mutually reinforce each other.
The image of a country or a brand is indeed intended to disseminate and exploit what intellectual property seeks to defend. However, there is some divergence of perceptions as to which, of the country’s image and its brand or intellectual property is ̏ the predominant ̏ intangible asset. Aaker (1991) states that within the economics community economic decision-makers, managers and specialists must recognize that brands are a company’s most valuable intangible asset […] the only ways to control markets and control the brands that dominate them.
These two categories ̏ of intangible assets ̏ obey distinct logics. The image of a country or a brand follows a synthetic economic logic whose aim is to arouse the common support of consumers. The creative, the emotional, the behavioural and the subjective play a fundamental role. Intellectual property, on the other hand, calls for cold, precise, analytical reasoning; it is often arid and complex (Goldfinger, 1994). The relationship between them and the media evolves in opposite directions. Specialists in country or brand image aim to make them more tangible and to find more support for them. Intellectual prosperity, on the other hand, is moving further away from material techniques and processes, becoming more generic and abstract to capture concepts and ideas.
4- The logic of immaterial capital: the dematerialization of the economy
The increase in investment in intangible capital transcends sectoral boundaries. Beyond the dimension of artefacts, assets and generation, we find within this paradigm an overall dynamic, notably the logic of the dematerialization of the economy. This dimension of logic is comparable to the industrial logic that structured the economic, financial and global sphere from the end of the 18th century onwards, affecting different fields and areas of activity.
Similarly, the logic of the dematerialization of the economy impacts all economic sectors, including the most traditional. This logic can be defined by a set of structuring characteristics, namely (Goldfinger, 1994):
Entertainment and information;
Redundancy and obsolescence;
Improbability and volatility ;
Personalization and projection;
Data and images
Within the immaterial economy, there are two categories of flow: images and data. These two categories can be conceived in terms of opposition (Goldfinger, 1994):
images appeal to the emotional, data to the rational;
images are often free, with no apparent utility, while data are functional;
images are relative, but data are absolute;
images are qualitative, data are quantitative;
images are ambiguous and complex, data are clear and precise;
The images are controversial, but the data are indisputable;
images are based on the communications industry, data are based on the information and R&D industry.
The duality between these two categories of intangible capital is both persistent and outdated. This duality is persistent because it corresponds to specific production logic and consumption patterns. It is outdated because the two flows are becoming increasingly intertwined. At the level of ideas, data and information can be transformed into images. The number of unemployed in an economy, the parity of a currency’s purchasing power, and the rate of inflation – these become symbols, with a strong emotional charge.
Abundance and spectacle
In order to reduce these imbalances, economic agents engage in a bidding war even for goods that have no value. As a result, the immaterial economy becomes a spectacle characterized by images punctuated by a succession of events.
The knock-on effect and follow-up dynamics
Like all economic and financial operations, intangible capital has a multiplier effect, creating value, wealth and jobs. This multiplier effect can be induced, accompanying industrial production. Bringing products to market requires the injection of a certain amount of intangible capital. This intangible capital can be as important as the product itself, to ensure that it spreads across markets.
These immaterial activities themselves produce a driving force. The generation of new immaterial activities follows the classic economic dynamic of production subcontracting and the multiplication of services. For example, the evolution and development of the installed base of computer programs generates growth in after-sales service and maintenance.
Similarly, the logic of dematerialization integrates a new dynamic, particularly in terms of monitoring based on informational links. Thus, the proliferation of artifacts and ̏ intangible assets ̏ creates both a demand for analysis, monitoring and consulting services.
Unpredictability and volatility
The lifespan of products, whether tangible or intangible, is marked essentially by unpredictability. The economic agent finds himself faced with a certain complexity in predicting the success of his intangible or tangible investment. Volatility is no longer localized and contingent, but structural and general. Changes in tastes and preferences are reflected globally and instantaneously, and ultimately translate into significant differences in price and performance.aracterized by images punctuated by the succession of events (Goldfinger, 1994).
In a dematerialized economy, the linear relationship between expenditure and results is no longer automatic. Substantial investment in research or in the production of other goods does not guarantee the release and success of these products on the market.
From production/consumption to creation/transaction
The new logic of economic dematerialization profoundly disrupts the classic production/consumption process. In this sense, the traditional economic production process is becoming more interactive and participative. This process traces the objective of reducing the rate and probability of failure of a new product launched on the market. To this end, modeling techniques are essentially based on the rapid integration of market information.
According to a traditional economic vision, the acquisition of a good and its consumption are seen as a final stage in the economic process and the first step towards the destruction of value; the value of goods depreciates after purchase and/or after their integration into productive processes. This logic is less relevant to the immaterial economy, where consumption is seen as the first stage in a process of creating or adding value to goods (Goldfinger, 1994).
The classic production/consumption process is replaced and superimposed by a chain of creation/transaction. In the logic of economic dematerialization, the transaction effect can be presented as an exchange of one product/artifact for another product/artifact, or a monetary payment. The transaction is not a one-off act, but a continuous process, which introduces the notion of duration, of recurring relations of interaction between the various economic agents, producers, suppliers and consumers.
Transactions involving intangibles, such as information, data, brand image or a country’s image, are far more numerous than commercial transactions involving tangible goods. These immaterial transactions are also more ambiguous and complex.
The logic of the dematerialization of the economy is defining a specific and particular new landscape. New forms of economic and financial relations between producers, suppliers and consumers are emerging, breaking down the traditional links of proximity between different economic agents. In this sense, informed observers are proclaiming the emergence of new forms of organization and structure, such as the network society (social capital), the cognitive institution and the virtual institution.
The aim of this article is to determine the codification and dimensions of intangible capital following the shift in economic driving forces. Starting from the observation that intangible investment differs from tangible investment, we have demonstrated the specific characteristics in order to make intangible capital observable. Thus, throughout this article, we have addressed the following problem: To what extent do the various economic dimensions of intangible capital enable the codification and creation of wealth?
Specific characteristics and codifications derive from the dimensions of immaterial capital that differ from material capital. It is a generator (uncertainty and contestation), an artifact, an ̏ asset ̏ and a logic.
Intangible capital generates uncertainty because of its sunk cost risk; intangible investments are worth less if they are not efficient. It is complex for an investor to recover its value by selling it on the market (if the market exists). Similarly, the spillover effect of intangible capital makes it complex and uncertain to assess the future profitability of the investing economic agent. Thus, the absence of a market for intangible assets contributes to the sunk cost of these assets, and makes realistic estimates of their value more uncertain. The contestation generated by intangible capital is confirmed: tensions exist between the various economic agents (producer and consumer); each wants to have control over the other, to own it or to profit from it. This contestation is justified by the synergy effect. This contestation is exacerbated by the ambiguity of the rules governing ownership of investments in intangible capital. Institutions find themselves in contention with each other, since ownership of immaterial wealth is less well established and less clearly identified.
The second dimension of intangible capital relates to the artifact of this wealth. Intangible capital can be represented as an end product of activity. It is represented as an ̏ asset ̏ that an institution can use to create, distribute a product or service for consumption, can be affected in a production process, this is the dimension of an ̏ asset ̏.
Finally, the immaterial takes on the dimension of a development rationale that applies to all economic sectors, enabling new rules of organization, competitiveness and valuation to be defined. This logic is seen as the dematerialization of the economy. It frees the economic sphere from the traditional constraints of the material economy, geography and scarce resources.
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