Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Robert Gordon

Bernie Sanders: What the Economists are Fighting About

Economists have gotten into a big fight with each other about the potential economic impacts of Bernie Sanders’ proposals. First Gerald Friedman came out with a new paper anticipating a tremendous improvement in economic performance under Sanders. Then four economists (Krueger, Goolsbee, Romer, and Tyson) affiliated with the Obama and Clinton administrations wrote a joint letter asserting that Friedman’s claims “cannot be supported by the economic evidence”. Paul Krugman subsequently took their side on his popular blog. Others have defended Friedman–Jamie Galbraith accuses the four of not having rigorously reviewed the paper, while Dean Baker claims that the New York Times is not giving Sanders’ side a platform and that there’s far more support among economists than we are being led to believe. In the popular press, this argument has rapidly devolved into a question of which authorities are more or less credible. I want to give you something better–a readable analysis of the actual arguments at stake here.

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Resisting Stagnation and the New Dark Age

There’s a lot of talk lately by Summers, Krugman, and others that we may be in a period of secular stagnation, in which the rate at which the economy grows in the wealthiest countries falls substantially and permanently. Observing this, some are quick to point to demography as the cause. If populations are not growing as swiftly as they once did, it would indeed make sense that growth rates would fall. Under this thinking, slower growth isn’t a problem, because per capita growth is theoretically still strong–the economy is growing slower in aggregate, but it’s growing at the same speed relative to the size of the population. The trouble is that on further investigation, the demographic explanation does not sufficiently account for what’s going on. Not only are growth rates slowing, but per capita growth rates are slowing, and have been slowing for a while, beginning far before the recent economic crisis. This throws Kurzweil’s theory of accelerating returns into doubt, and undermines the central precept underlying our capitalist society–that the labors of this generation today are meant to make the next generation’s lives go better. If stagnation is the way of the future, it’s a much more serious problem than we presently recognize, one that ultimately threatens not merely our dreams of better lives for ourselves, but the very stability of our civilization.

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The Demise of the Scientific Breakthrough?

Yesterday, I ran across a new paper from economist Robert Gordon that suggests that long-term innovation and technological development may be slowing, at least in the case of breakthrough technologies. I found Gordon’s paper interesting, and would like to use today’s post to discuss it and its possible future implications.

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