Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why Technology Can't Be Counted On To Save the Western Way of Life

Here are some techno-optimists on why Professor Gordon's "Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds" is wrong.

How's this for a hat tip or link chain:
FT Alphaville directs us to Marginal Revolution who sends us to the founding editor of Wired who says:
...I think the key sentence in Gordon's paper is this:
"Both the first two revolutions required about 100 years for their full effects to percolate through the economy."
Repeat: it took a century for the full benefits of the innovations to show up.
By my calculation we are into year 20 of this 3rd upheaval....
The italicized bit ≠ the bolded bit.

If someone who worked for me played that fast and loose with the language I'd probably fire them.
This is either deceptive or it is sloppy thinking, he obviously never had to argue with a Jesuit or Great-aunt Bernice.

That thinking did however remind me of one of the more important observations on human nature that I've come across:
"Sooner or later in any society the progress of technology will grind to a halt because the forces that used to support innovation become vested"

"In a purely dialectical fashion, technological progress creates the forces that eventually destroy it. This result holds for a single closed economy."
-Joel Mokyr
"The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy"
That vested interest thing is a damn good reason to kill corporations every 99-or-so years, they get too big, they become entrenched, they stifle innovation, they should die.
"Corporations are people my friend."
Yeah, except you can't throw them in jail, sentence them to death or many other things you can do with a natural person.