There is little doubt that over the last three decades, the world economy has witnessed the emergence of a cluster of new technologies – that is, a new broad techno-economic paradigm in the sense of Freeman and Perez (1988) – centred on electronic-based information and communication technologies. Such ICT technologies not only gave rise to new industries but, equally important, deeply transformed incumbent industries (and for that matter, also service activities), their organizational patterns and their drivers of competitive success.
Granted such ‘revolutionary’ features of the emerging ICT-based (and possibly life science-based) technologies in manufacturing and services, what has been their impact upon the vertical and horizontal boundaries of the firms? What is the evidence supporting the view according to which the new techno-economic paradigm is conducive to a progressive fading away of the Chandlerian multidivisional corporation, which was at the centre of the previous techno-economic paradigm, in favour of more specialized, less vertically integrated structures? Is it true that large firms are generally losing their advantage in favour of smaller ones? And more generally, how robust is the evidence, if any, of a ‘vanishing visible hand’ (Langlois, 2003) in favour of a more market-centred organization of economic activities?
In this work we address these issues, drawing both on several pieces of circumstantial evidence and on firm-level statistical data. In fact, if the sources of competitive advantage conditional on firm size had significantly changed, this should reflect also on changes in the size distribution of firms, on their growth profiles and on the degrees of concentration of industries.