by Tyler Cowen
on January 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm
1. There is no great stagnation, toddler edition.
2. Michael Gibson is now blogging at Forbes, including on education and tech stagnation.
3. By Philip Wallach, what really to do about the debt ceiling.
4. Wade Davis reviews Jared Diamond.
5. Analysis of Lindsay Lohan.
6. Long and very good Economist piece on whether there is a great stagnation in technology.
7. Jim Manzi on lead and crime.
It would ne easier to believe that ” There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no Social Darwinian ladder to success.” if those lower on the ladder or those advocating for them didn’t complain about it so much.
and if those lower on the ladder weren’t so intent on leaving their own societies
It is obvious to anyone that western culture is superior to any other culture now in existence. That is why people in non-western societies want to migrate to the west. It is not just for the higher incomes. If given a choice between a huge income in Saudi Arabia with its rigid Islamic culture and lifestyle, and half of that income in the U.S, most intelligent people would prefer to live in the U.S with its western cultural mores. It is stupid to say that ” There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, “
“Should Congress fail to increase the debt ceiling in a timely manner, the President would be forced to break laws, and would probably choose to fail to carry though many spending obligations”
What is in you guys water?
By all means, let’s go on and on about arcane analysis of debt ceiling philosophy, constitutional issues, legal strategies, political positioning, and clever ways to circumvent same.
So much more pleasant than confronting actual budget issues, like raising taxes or cutting spending.
Won’t matter, either way. Population growth is too slow for the elderly to keep extracting rents from the young.
“the President would be forced to break laws,”
Is there some other way to shake these people out of their stupor?
You don’t seem to understand the point you quote.
The debt ceiling law caps the amount the US can borrow. Other laws require various types of spending. When those laws collide (as they will any moment now) one or the other will be broken.
That debt ceiling thing, that’s called a law.
The debt ceiling is a law. Spending mandates are also laws. One law says you must spend money. The other says you must not spend money. One of them has to be broken.
I’m not entirely sure all the spending is mandated by law.
Actually the debt ceiling says you must not borrow above a point, not that you must not spend above a point.
As far as I can tell, the only practical purpose of the debt ceiling, at this point, is to create a sort of manufactured crisis during which some hard negotiations can be carried out. But in general, the way the federal budget has worked for the last several years just screams dysfunction in every way.
The political manuevering has a cost in uncertainty, I think. Every time there’s another manufactured crisis and showdown, there’s some non-negligible chance that things really will spiral out of control–we’ll have a several-week government shutdown, we’ll actually trigger layoffs in a bunch of government contractors only to call them back to work a few months later (so we get the damage to productivity of layoffs, but without any of the cost savings), we’ll manage to actually trigger some kind of stock or bond market collapse, etc. But the showdowns and manufactured crises are relatively useful for the politicians involved, and top-level national politics selects for sociopaths who would sell their own mother down the river for another year in power, so we’ll just keep having them till we wreck something.
Actually the debt ceiling is completely rational. Everyone has some idea of what the debt ceiling should be, excepting complete lunatics who think that debt is free money.
Congress took away discretionary spending power from the Executive (and created the CBO) during the Nixon era. See the second paragraph of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_budget_process#Discretionary_and_mandatory_spending
The Constitution also has some bearing on this. From the 14th Amendment
“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”
Note the “authorized by law” clause. Any debt over the debt limit is not “authorized by law”.
It’s needless regulation like that which leads countries to borrow money from loan sharks.
4. ” We must reform our dysfunctional budgeting process. More government spending should be moved on-budget, forcing a hard look at the tradeoffs between entitlement expenditures and discretionary spending.”
Excuse me but this guy is clueless. The democrats have not passed a budget in years, despite being required to do so, and now they are going to become rational.
Obama was elected by finding enough “low information” voters. These people are not going to wake up until bad news smacks them upside the head. I wish it were otherwise, but hope is not a strategy. I would be happy to be wrong.
“Obama was elected by finding enough “low information” voters.”
Did you miss this past election where Romney milked his so called “high information” voters for money when he had no real chance of winning? They may be high information but they are also wrong information. The Republican high information voters strongly believe there is a man in the sky that pays attention to what types of genitals get rubbed together here on earth but don’t believe in the science that correctly predicted the election results.
I fully expect the Republicans to come around and make 2016 all about Nate Silver’s genitals.
Ah, the low information commenters strike again. Make a criticism of the indefensible Obama/Dem axis and how do they respond? The Republicans are evil, stupid, etc. How about a defense of O/D rather than “hey look, a squirrel!”?
By low information voters you mean all those people who did not know the details of Romney’s economic plan … oh wait, there were no details. Those “low information” voters you despise so were smart enough to see that Romney was a poseur.
Maybe the true “low information” voters were the ones who thought the Republicans had a coherent policy proposal.
Still waiting for a coherent defense of Obama and the Dems. Guess what? None will be forthcoming, because none exists.
Obama’s position seems pretty clear: basically steady as she goes with a military draw down, tax increases for the rich and a willingness to squeeze Medicare but nothing radical.
It makes a lot more sense then the nihilist nonsense coming from the Tea Party.
#5: Bret Easton Ellis and Lindasy Lohan in the same room? Oh, for the meteor!
Ellis is a complete tool:
Who doesn’t hate DWF (and his pal Franzen)?
Judging by Ramon Glazov’s (whoever the hell he is) off-putting smarm, bitterness, and pedestrain writing qualities, I’m not surprised he is offended by true literary talent.
Have a nce weekend!
#4 reads like it was written by Steve Sailer or Hernry Harpending as parody.
Ha, you’re right. I was going to say, its hard to believe that a review of Diamond’s book could be worse than the book itself. “Your book conflicts with my own, totally unsourced and unjustified opinions, therefore it is bad!”
It is striking that the Economist piece gives almost no space to social constraints on growth — that regulation, redistribution, or societal loss of risk taking (driven perhaps by the aging of the Boomers) has contributed to the Great Stagnation by limiting which innovations are viable or even encouraged. We will not be able to test out this theory till a major nation reaches a high level of per capita income (China is a long way off) yet is willing to suffer the opprobrium of the other developed nations by pushing risky projects that are off limits elsewhere (think genetic engineering or large scale energy projects that might upset the greens). At the moment, every reasonably developed country must run its high status industries with a concern for Western sensibilities if it is to overcome regulatory and diplomatic barriers. Easier for follower countries to run after the low-hanging fruit first. But I’m sure the Chinese are amused that the West continues to handicap itself by not prioritizing pure economic growth to the same extent they do.
As a Hack-A-Day reader, I disagree that Boomers are not innovating, and I think my HAD feed illustrates another change. A shed inventor might have shared his gizmo with a friend, HAD pumps it to thousands, next day. Surely innovators are more productive which the communicate more and duplicate less. Wouldn’t fewer innovators per 100,000 outperform?
Right. I also was struck about how no mention of either government R&D or improving the patent system might encourage more inventions. Again, my favorite sports analogy: which basketball game shows higher skill: your local neighborhood pickup game, college basketball, or NBA? Analogous to: which system encourages the most innovation: trade secret only, today’s weak patent system (patents are only upheld about 50% to 60% of the time in litigation, even worthy ones, and mostly worthy patents are the patents litigated), or, a 21st century patent system where the government examines patent applications better, where prizes are offered by government for worthy inventions meeting milestones, and where patent trolling is made prohibitively expensive (such as adopting the rule that losers pay the defense’s legal fees)? Clearly the last example raises the game for innovation–akin to an Apollo “moon shot”.
Perhaps the Chinese leadership are amused, but I think they’re too busy dealing with all the protests.
In re lead: If Eric Raymond is right that spontaneous untrained attacks are non-lethal (overhand blows to the chest and shoulders, iirc), then it would make sense that lowered inhibitions lead to more assault but not more murder.
There’s international evidence that the lead-crime connection exists– it would be surprising if it were a coincidence.
Still, it would make sense to test children for lead to decide whether an expensive general remediation program is called for.
Two obvious points. First, untrained attacks may well be less lethal. However, more of them should produce more fatalities at any given “success” rate. Second, violent crimes (notably murder) are frequently committed with weapons more lethal than fists (guns, knives, baseball bats, etc.).
The Economist piece is probably right when it talks about the central importance of energy costs. The piece misses the point when it says: “Turning terabytes of genomic knowledge into medical benefit is a lot harder than discovering and mass producing antibiotics.” Scientific progress has moved from more or less random searching for shiny nuggets to vast industrial strip mines. Finding those initial nuggets was hard. The strip mine is just about systematic search. The real problem is not the difficulty of progress but the declining pay off.
The real problem isn’t diminishing returns. There’s a lot of very promising drugs that exist but are a decade or more away from going to humans. That is if any pharma company cares to sponsor their approval at all. This is due to FDA’s insane approval requirements.
For example we could pretty much end most of the problems with antibiotic resistance today. ABC transporter blockers and efflux pump inhibitors are known to drastically increase the effectiveness of antibiotics in resistant strains. Furthermore we know these drugs are safe, in the sense that they don’t produce any acute syndromes. There may be long-term effects, but do you really care if you’re dying from totally drug resistant TB or have a MRSA blood infection?
It’s doubtful whether any phrama company will spend the billions required to get these drugs to market and approved. But if we were operating under the standards of 1900, they would already be in use and we’d quickly and freely collect massive amounts of data on its safety and efficacy just through their common use.
It’s not a technological stagnation, it’s a government and institutional stagnation.
China’s health aid in Africa leads to flood of fake drugs Seems a bit “standards of 1900” to me.
The best way to gather safety and effectiveness data is not to release a drug to tens of thousands of people. It defeats the purpose of having those standards.
If the primary market for ABC transporter blockers is use with antibiotics, then the reason for companies’ lack of investment in them is their limited use, the same challenge we have with developing new antibiotics. People only use antibiotics for a few days, so they don’t turn into a lifelong money stream for companies. This is a market problem, not a regulatory issue.
I think the main market for ABC transporter blockers is in cancer chemotherapy. That’s where multidrug resistance was first discovered, and it is the cause of the eventual failure of chemotherapy. Most cancer chemotherapy drugs (docetaxel being a notable exception) up-regulate both the transporters (P-gp, MDR1, etc.) and the xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes (CYP3A4, CYP2D6, etc.).
Sure, they sell billions of pills a year, and will forever, but it will be different patients, so who wants that market? Not a very compelling argument when we’re talking about life-threatening diseases without alternative cures.
Those medications might be promising but to the extent they are a response to drug resistance they just let us tread water and to the extent they are a step forward they are probably nothing compared to the impact of public sanitation and the first anti-biotics.
Are there any other countries which are using them widely? The US is not the only drug regulatory regime on Earth.
RE: #1 and #6, the majority of the economy is services, so for real “oomph” you’re going to need to see the service equivalent of the internal combustion engine or electricity. Something that makes the service-worker 100x more productive.
Not sure what that is. Maybe IBM’s Watson?
I believe the answer there is replacing the service worker entirely, with a sufficiently advanced robot.
Yeah, that thought occurred to me as well. Replace Taxi drivers with Google’s self-driving cars.
I actually went looking for a breakdown of what people “do” in the services sector, to see where we would get the most benefit from replacement or efficiency. I didn’t find it yet, but just thinking out loud, considering the following –
1. Labor productivity growth really started to take off with agricultural productivity, allowing people to leave the farm to get jobs in the cities.
2. Labor productivity growth continued by producing more stuff with fewer people. But manufacturing is down to a small percentage of the labor market. Doubling efficiency there will only improve total labor productivity a little.
3. So to really get a big bump in productivity rates, you need to attack the biggest time-sucks of human labor. Without the chart in front of me, I’m thinking education and healthcare, but also retail and food services.
Tell me a story about how all those sectors dramatically decrease their labor usage. For instance, education, probably won’t. I love the coming tidal wave in education from Khan Academy and MRU, but one of the primary services that primary education provides is (sadly) day care. You’re not going to replace teachers with robots any time soon, because at a minimum, people want a person watching their kid. Robot baby-sitters aren’t happening any time soon.
Similarly, healthcare, I can see the administrative half of it going away, but not the nurse and doctor half. Robots will help improve the accuracy of diagnosis and care, but they have a terrible bedside manner.
Food services – No. Too messy. Robots can’t handle special orders. People like human waiters.
Retail. Only to the extent that Amazon puts retail out of business. But any retail store fronts that continue to exist will require the human touch. Robots can only replace the warehousing and transport parts.
“Similarly, healthcare, I can see the administrative half of it going away, but not the nurse and doctor half. Robots will help improve the accuracy of diagnosis and care, but they have a terrible bedside manner.”
Half the time in the hospital you want a nurse to bring you something and you are aggravated at the wait. Do I care if I want another pillow or some ice or my scheduled medicine that a robot brings it? Would it matter if a robot checks my blood pressure or temperature? For that matter it won’t be a ‘robot’, but a sensor suite. And instead of getting a temperature check 4 times a day, it may well be continuously.
“Food services – No. Too messy. Robots can’t handle special orders. People like human waiters.”
I expect that Robots will handle special orders much better than your average waiter. Seriously, I’d far rather select my order on a menu screen and know that there were no translation issues and it will arrive sooner. People do like human waiters. But will people choose the expensive all human staff restaurant or the mostly robotic with a few human overseers place? My guess is that most people will choose the cheaper option.
>You’re not going to replace teachers with robots any time soon, because at a minimum, people want a person watching their kid. Robot baby-sitters aren’t happening any time soon.
Television? The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer?
>I can see the administrative half of it going away, but not the nurse and doctor half. Robots will help improve the accuracy of diagnosis and care, but they have a terrible bedside manner.
Use robots for decision making, with some doctors for oversight. Replace most nurses and doctors with bright high-school graduates with good hospitality skills.
>Food services – No. Too messy. Robots can’t handle special orders. People like human waiters.
Agreed – but order with a tablet, and pay with a Square-like credit card reader. Bam, 2/3 of the waiter’s job is done; the only remaining task is to physically bring out food.
>Retail. Only to the extent that Amazon puts retail out of business.
I’d argue Amazon IS a giant robot doing most of what retail does.
The common thread here is that “robots doing this job” won’t actually look like the humans that do the job. Unbundling, deskilling, and substitutes that look very different will be the order of the day.
In Japan, a lot of cafeteria cashiers have been replaced by vending machines. The cooks are still there, but there’s no person sitting there to collect your money. You buy a ticket from a vending machine for the particular dish you want and give it to the cook, he gives you your food and you head on your way as you’ve already paid for it.
“Similarly, healthcare, I can see the administrative half of it going away, but not the nurse and doctor half.”
Use expert systems to augment doctors, use lower skilled/cheaper people for front line care, develop better treatments and grind doctors’ incomes and you could improve your bang for your buck in doctors by a factor of anywhere from two to five.
We ARE in a stagnation right now.
But that’s going to change once the robot revolution starts.
However, the coming robot revolution creates a dilemma for libertarian economist types. What will humans do for a living when robots can do all blue-collar jobs, and most people aren’t smart enough for high-level thinking work?
We’ll expand the. social-welfare system to take care of these people. At the same time, they will be discouraged from having kids (put birth control in water supply, repeal the Hyde Amendment, etc.). This population will decline through attrition over time.
One would hope that rising productivity lifts living standards to the point that parents can scale back to the day-care that God/Nature designed. Unfortunately, since we’ve leveraged productivity into the next millenium and are adding a million people a year to the labor pool, that’s probably not the future that will pan out.
The Economist piece was pretty good, but I was jolted by this:
“People are controlling video games through body movement alone—a technology that may soon find application in much of the business world.”
Gasp. You mean… they move their body, and things happen? Kinda like using a joystick?
Ok, I know what they meant, that there is no direct physical interface, but still… it was a bit odd to describe it that way. Especially when they could have said “People are controlling video games through thought alone…” and still been accurate.
“Gasp. You mean… they move their body, and things happen? Kinda like using a joystick? … Especially when they could have said “People are controlling video games through thought alone…” and still been accurate.”
I expect they were referring to vision systems like the XBox Kinect. Where you move your arms or legs and the camera reacts to what it sees you do. So saying “People are controlling video games through thought alone” would not have been an accurate statement, but it’s also not the same as using a joystick.
Kind of got from Colin that “look ma, no wires” is less impressive than we think it is. On the other hand, there have been a number of “thought alone” interfaces. (See Emotiv’s EPOC headset)
Did you notice that in that Economist piece, each section heading is the title of a (good) book by the late Arthur C. Clarke?
A Fall Of Moondust
The Fountains Of Paradise
The Other Side Of The Sky
The View From Serendip
Doh! Now I feel stupid.
I picked up on Fountains of Paradise, but missed the pattern.
I cannot believe anyone takes this lead thing seriously. There is a simple way to solve this. Measure the amount of lead in the criminals. Or analyze their organs. Damage from lead poisoning should be obvious. What about societies that use no lead? They should be living in paradise. People have heated with coal and gas for years. Yet crime is going down. The major crime areas are those dominated by Democrats and the welfare state. Now that is correlation.
You don’t seem to understand that there can be multiple causal factors. The Democratic Party and lead can both cause crime. There can be other factors causing crime in pre-lead societies (I’m not sure if any exist today). And lead contamination has been examined in specific individuals, poor urbanites seem to have more in their system.
Comments on this entry are closed.
Previous post: A few James Buchanan reminiscences
Next post: I had neglected to blog these
Email Tyler Cowen
Follow Tyler on Twitter
Email Alex Tabarrok
Follow Alex on Twitter
Subscribe in a reader
Follow Us on Twitter
Marginal Revolution on Twitter Counter.com
Get smart with the Thesis WordPress Theme from DIYthemes.