In a 2014 book, the Nobel laureate economist Joseph E Stiglitz and Bruce C Greenwald argued that the most important societal endowment is the ability to learn. Today, it is increasingly evident that the “learning society” has not only been created but is starting to drive our economies.

From the 19th century until about 25 years ago, businesses largely invested in physical infrastructure and machinery, from railroads to vehicles. But in the past quarter-century, investment in so-called intangible assets — such as intellectual property, research, software, and managerial and organisational skills — has soared.

Recent McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) research found that, by 2019, intangibles accounted for 40% of all investment in the United States and 10 European economies, up 29% from 1995. And intangibles investment appears to have surged again in 2020 as digitalisation accelerated in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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