by Tyler Cowen
on September 9, 2013 at 2:30 pm
in Uncategorized |
1. Obituary for David S. Landes.
2. The case that China has escaped the worst.
3. Joel Mokyr on whether technological progress is a thing of the past, and related interesting comments over at Mark Thoma’s.
4. Dean Yang’s reading list for development economics (pdf).
5. Accessing a quantum chip through the internet, and the supermarket moves beyond the great stagnation.
6. Breaking down labor’s declining share.
7. How Emir Kamenica got into college. And are tenure-track professors better teachers? (No, it seems.)
Alright, I’ll take a whack at this.
Regarding Malthusianism: We are already experiencing Malthusian adjustment. Normally, a subsistence economy is thought of as one which cannot support itself, specifically, one in which part of the population starves to death. But it can as easily be interpreted as a society which cannot sustain its population through insufficient births rather than excess deaths.
By that measure, Europe, Japan, Korea, and non-immigrant US are already Malthusian societies. They have become unable to sustain their populations and are in decline.
Nations have been unable to sustain their population growth, or couples have decided not to have more children?
Nations have been unable to sustain conditions under which women are willing to have children. This includes epidemics of mental disease such as homosexuality and feminism.
Technology has created opportunities for recreational sechs without pregnancy but based on the content of your comment I assume you have little first hand experience with that….
Your idiotic ad hominem aside, “recreational sex” with contraception is the perfect example of a memetic weapon that redirects biological predilections for procreation into nonproductive hedonistic activities. In other words, your dumbass comment proved my point, idiot.
But how about his other point? Because your dismissal of a memetic weapon leads to only a couple of conclusions -
No experience of procreational sex (the majority is likely to agree with this)
Experience of procreational sex, but without success (certainly possible – but then, some might think you would be engaging in hedonism if you were having sex at any time except at the peak of a woman’s fertility cycle)
A number of children as a result of procreational sex (well, the laughter is simply too loud to bother coming up with anything else to add)
For most of the history, sex was recreational. Even unprotected sex only rarely leads to pregnancy, and the contemporary hunter tribes often do not even understand the exact correlation between sex and pregnancy. (There seems to be quite a lot of weird beliefs about sex even in the developed world….)
Malthusian adjustment can’t be interpreted in that way. Malthusian children die; modern potential-children aren’t born because their parents don’t want their families to enjoy a lower standard of living. Importantly, the first is not a choice.
Malthusian adjustment is a catastrophic collapse of population due to over breeding and loss of resource input. Our current situation isn’t comparable. It’s a demographic change not an apocalypse.
As for innovation, again a reminder of just where our seed corn has gone.
From 1998 to 2005, we invested $1.5 trillion in upstream exploration and development and increased oil production by 9 mbpd. From 2005 to 2012, we spend $3.5 trillion on upstream spend and increased production by a lousy 4 mbpd. Indeed, legacy 2005 production (excluding US shales, Canadian oil sands and natural gas liquids) actually fell by 1 mbpd tp 2012. Peak oil occurred in 2005, and all subsequent growth has come from oil sands and shales and by products of natural gas wells.
So we have a deadweight loss of something like $2 trillion in the last seven years–equal to the GDP of Italy. That’s a lot of capital wasted, and I consider it highly likely that it cannibalized investment in other sectors.
I read a book once, The Color of Oil : The History, the Money and the Politics of the World’s Biggest Business Hardcover by Ronald Oligney (Author) , Armando Izquierdo (Author) , Micheal Economides (Author) (love the last author’s name, a common Greek surname, fitting here ain’t it?) that stated technology is the oil sector is rather primitive, when all is said and done. Sure, supercomputers do analysis of bore hole data that boggles the mind, but at the end of the day drilling for oil is primitive, with perhaps horizontal drilling (an old technology, though the modern method of practicing it probably has many trade secrets) being the exception that proves the rule.
Is it a coincidence that CNTRL + F, “patents” yields no hits in Mokyr’s blog on No Great Stagnation, who is pro-tech friendly, and gets at best a token nod from everybody else, including TC? These patent-light people seem to think trade secrets are best, that stealing trade secrets and hiring away employees to tap their brains is best for society, that “inventors invent” auto-magically, with no need for further incentives (“just look at all those Nobel Prize winners, hardly few of any patented their inventions most of which cannot be patented anyway”–as if this is anymore a justification than “slavery is OK, it prevented execution of prisoners of war, and historically has been found to be economically self-sustaining”)
A more advanced society will reach the next level through a better patent system, including as Alex T has said on this blog, offering prizes for inventions, and, say I, extending the term of protection for breakthrough inventions: 20 years patent protection is not enough time as any worthy drug company will tell you)
‘but at the end of the day drilling for oil is primitive’
Offshore platforms are extremely sophiscated – they just aren’t reduceable to a patent search. (Check into stabilization, as just one tiny example.)
Drilling for oil is not primitive; it is an area of great technological advancement. Not just on offshore platforms–how about tar sands, for example? And there are many less visible advances in technology that allow more oil to be extracted from existing wells.
The problem is the patent term does not vary depending on the resources needed to make the innovation. Patents are great and necessary for pharma, not so much for software.
I am not sure about pharma, but software patents are an enormous deadweight loss, positively crippling development of new software and algorithms anywhere, where they have been introduced. Only swarms of parasitic lawyers get fat on the (absolutely unnecessary) patent wars.
Full disclosure: a co-owner of a software development company here, 10 years of existence so far.
“Are tenure-track professors better teachers?” Mood affiliation in 3 … 2 … 1 …
(Actual answer: they may or may not be, but the incentives certainly aren’t aligned toward greater teaching effort.)
Jordan Weissman’s Atlantic post also notes some very important questions this study doesn’t attempt to answer.
Link to Jordan Weissman’s post: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/study-tenured-professors-make-worse-teachers/279480/
(7.) The key is this: “in their introductory courses”. I’m sure a career lecturer will do a better job, or at least not a worse job, teaching Econ 101 to students. TT professors are bored teaching elementary material, or try to be creative and lose the students. But I do not think the finding generalizes to more advanced or more specialized courses, much less graduate courses.
1) In my experience, good teachers are good at teaching anything, and bad teachers are bad at teaching anything.
2) If someone is not excited about introducing people to their field of study and/or not capable of communicating well to non-experts, they are unlikely to be a good lecturer.
Prof Kamenica taught my behavioral economics class in about 2008. He was an engaging lecturer, if slightly bored.
#7: I dug into this a little while ago. My post on it is probably a little snarkier and stream-of-consciousness than it could be, but, basically, I found that gross domestic compensation and domestic corporate profits are very stable over many decades. Corporate profits look like they’re growing if you include foreign profits, and wages look like they are decreasing if you leave out “supplements to wages”, which is mostly pension benefits.
What confuses the issue on this, as well as on the trade deficit, is that Americans make a tremendous return on foreign investments, which I discuss here.
Although it’s open to discussion to what extent large returns on foreign investment are returns on foreign investment, and to what extent they are as much creative tax accounting as the internal revenue code permits.
Oops. Sorry. That was a response to link #6.
#3 seems to be commiting the broken window fallacy in parts – innovations to fix the harms of other innovations might be better than nothing but aren’t really what we want.
“innovations to fix the harms of other innovations might be better than nothing but aren’t really what we want”
The comparison with the broken window fallacy is not appropriate. Hazlitt refers to the fallacy in criticizing Keynesian policy prescriptions . Mokyr is not advocating ” innovations to fix the harms of other innovations “. He is just describing what he thinks actually goes on. If innovators do, in fact, respond to the problems caused by other innovations , they are responding to incentives. How can we call this a fallacy?
#1: Landes had the courage to acknowledge the superiority of western culture. However, this did not prevent him from recognizing the atrocities committed by Columbus . Likewise, while he rightly noted that Israel has a superior culture , he also ought to have recognized the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians.
Israelis don’t have a Western culture though. For one thing, a large percentage of Israelis are Mizrahi Jews and aren’t European. Moreover, Ashkenazi Jews share with Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews a tribal cultural orientation which is characteristic of Middle Eastern culture but not of Europe.
People wondering how it is that villages in Syria still speak Aramic, how tiny syncretic religions like Yazidism and communities like the Druze have survived over the centuries, etc. while in Europe until the Reformation virtually everyone was Catholic except for Jews and heterodox movements like Catharism were stamped out, should recognize the underlying difference. One society was tribal and clan-based, and one wasn’t.
Well, many places in Europe are tribal and clan-based until this day. Corsica, Sicily, Albania.
Israelis don’t have a Western culture though.
And the person you’re responding to did not write that they did, so why you wrote any of your post is a puzzle.
# 5, Supermarket: Have a junior manager peek at the lines in front of the cash registers every now and then. Have the junior manager ask more employees to take over registers when lines are longer. Help junior manager with a little chart showing when store is usually busy.
Can I patent this idea?
You could patent a better version of this idea but likely it won’t do much good unless you just want to harass your competitors like a patent troll. The present system of patent law is set up for large corporations with huge budgets, and even then you only are playing the odds of 60% – 40%, that any patent will be upheld about 60% of the time (it used to be much worse, so this is considered a pro-patent improvement). A minimum level of money to get even a slam-dunk patent case decided is several hundred thousand US dollars, last I checked, a fact which is exploited by patent trolls (and more generally ‘slip-and-fall’ tort lawyers).
Sadly, patent law is misunderstood even by the smartest people, who seem to think innovation is fixed and inelastic, or “waiting to be discovered”. Linguistics is a guide: breakthroughs are deemed “discovered” (as in Issac Newton ‘discovered’ gravity) rather than invented (yes, Newton’s inverse square law of gravitation is an invention, a math model that is very accurate except when dealing with general relativity problems, which BTW have to be accounted for in satellite navigation systems or they will not work correctly). Inventions are often thought of as a ‘flash of genius’ that occurs suddenly and randomly, rather than hard work (Edison’s popular image of manufactured R&D, which I would argue is the rule in invention, being the exception)
re: “If quantum computing does become a practical technology, there will be a relatively small number of quantum computers, which people will access remotely.”
I think I’ve heard this before. Among others http://www.rinkworks.com/said/predictions.shtml
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.
I really want to agree with this, but I have noticed a definite trend to centralized computing. We call it Cloud Computing, not mainframe, but the paradigm is very similar.
The current security issues may very well stop and reverse that trend.
#5 “The $518-billion grocery store industry hasn’t made a major leap forward since the bar code scanner was introduced in the 1970s. ”
Self-Checkout lanes are a pretty major leap forward. Also, cash registers are far more sophisticated than the 1970′s version. RFID pallet tracking is another leap forward, as well as, sophisticated distribution, shipping and inventory management systems. Indeed, stores didn’t even have transactional databases (or the computers necessary to run them) in the 1970′s, now their inventory is run by them. However, most of that isn’t visible to shoppers.
check out this guy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Saunders_%28grocer%29
#5: “Patrons at the chain, which Tesco is now attempting to sell, complained about the dearth of smiling employees in the stores, which feature self-checkout machines only.” I thought one shops to get stuff one needs and not to meet smiling people, least of all smiling employees! And do people complain about dearth of smiling employees” when they go to withdraw money from an ATM?
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