November 25, 2013

The New Normal -- 1930s Edition

[Photographer Lewis Hine (1874-1940)]'s glimpses of the future -- and those scenes he missed -- remind us to be skeptical of technological pessimism. As the historian and economist Joel Mokyr (Robert Gordon's colleague at Northwestern) has reminded us, the idea that we have picked the low-hanging fruit of technology calls for a counter-metaphor that bring to mind Hine's photo of the toolmaker's microscope: "Technology creates taller and taller ladders, and the higher-hanging fruits are within reach and may be just as juicy."
Amen. I am disturbed, less by the Krugmans and Brad DeLongs of the world, than Tyler Cowen and to some extent James Pethokoukis (to be fair to JimiP, I cannot Google up a good inculpatory quote).

The supporting concepts, like in the 1930s, are compelling: we do not have another low hanging economic nuke to compare with including African Americans, or women, or educating the intelligent but indigent. Fair enough.

But I do not see that VP Gore could not invent another thing as cool and productive as the Internet. Nanotech, asteroid mining, gene therapies? GMO crops? The increased productivity of using Facebook working in your Google-driven vehicle during your commute?

I think the world of Cowen. And, despite some partisan hackery, I must admit that Krugman and DeLong have their occasional insights. Yet it is difficult to disprove this theory without quantifying the future value of spontaneous order, which is tautologically impossible. I'd recommend David Deutsch's "The Beginning of Infinity" to open the vision. But Edward Tenner's AEI Piece, from which the opening quote was taken, shows how compelling were these same claims in The Great Depression, when the country was laying the technological foundation for a century of rapid expansion.

Technology Posted by John Kranz at November 25, 2013 12:40 PM

I am generally impressed with your ability to separate the AEI wheat from the AEI chaff. Never follow it b/c I know if anything good is written there then you will probably post it here.

Posted by: T. Greer at December 1, 2013 5:32 AM | What do you think? [1]