- File Size: 664 KB
- Print Length: 128 pages
- Publisher: Dutton (January 25, 2011)
- Publication Date: January 25, 2011
- Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004H0M8QS
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #282,714 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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I would highly recommend reading this, either in kindle or hardcover form.
I was really hoping for a book that spent less time discussing these simple facts, and more time analyzing our way out of this. The last chapter on this topic felt a bit fluffy.
First is that economic progress depends on (among other factors) technological innovation. So far so good; this is nearly a truism. Cowen goes on to say that technological innovation is lumpy (yes) and that the period 1980-2010 is actually a period of low, rather than high, innovation. That last point got my attention. I agree. However, the argument needs more evidence here -- how do you measure worldwide technological innovation over, say, a decade, and then compare that with other decades? On the surface, one can say: electric light + automobile + telegraph + radio (inventions from 1880 - 1920) beat all the inventions from 1970 - 2010 (Internet, and, well, what else?)
Cowen also says: it's difficult to measure increases in human satisfaction ("welfare" is the economic term but some readers may take that to mean something else, so I'll say "human satisfaction" instead). Government outputs that increase human satisfaction are difficult to measure, so economists fall back to measuring the cost of the inputs instead. That leads to self-justified government programs: a 20-person department must be better than a 10-person department because it costs twice as much.
The Internet, the great invention of the past 30 years, poses a similar problem. The internet has taken out so many costs that it's hard to measure human satisfaction from nearly cost-free goods! For example, I bought a copy of "Up from Slavery" for $0.00 from amazon.com. I enjoyed reading it and it inspired me. But how can an economist measure how much better off I am? The Internet has created a mountain of unquantifiable consumer surplus.
If stagnation comes from low innovation, then how does one increase innovation? Cowen offers one proposal: offer more respect to scientists and engineers. Give less of your adoration to entertainers of various types and more of it to people actually improving the world. By itself, this isn't very actionable. However, Cowen points out that some cultures respect engineers more than other cultures, and he predicts that societies with such cultures are going to do better in the future.