Monday, June 21, 2010

Mankiw – On Democrats, Economists and Policy

Mankiw’s “Crisis Economics” from the Summer 2010 issue of National Affairs touches on a bunch of issues that come up in this class:

  • What theory is correct?
  • What policy is correct?
  • How do we judge policy if it doesn’t work?
  • What do Democrats believe?
  • What do economists who work for Democrats believe?

Keep in mind while reading this, that Mankiw is known as a new-Keyesian, but directed Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors for a while, and almost got fired for saying publicly that his administration’s policies didn’t make sense.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Technology that Augments Labor with More Labor (Instead of Capital)

We usually think of technology as labor-augmenting: it allows a unit of labor to control more units of capital.

In class, I use the dashboard of a car as my metaphor to motivate thinking about this.

Here’s Robin Hanson, an economics professor from George Mason University. Robin is “way out there” as far as thinking about what the future will look like, from a foundation of science.

Robin Hanson: "Economics of Nanotech and AI" at Foresight 2010 Conference from Foresight Institute on Vimeo.

In particular, he envisions astronomical growth in the next century or so. He does this not just by envisioning the effects of cloning – the creation of a physical duplicate of a person, but by personal digitization. That’s the virtualization of a person’s intellect and abilities into the internet.

In short, what would growth look like if you could control/be more than one of you? In more than one place? Each of you using labor-augmenting technology? And, what if some of those “yous” were digital, and didn’t require much in the way of resources?

This seems far-fetched, but it’s not really much more than a big macro in a program. Recall that a macro in Word or Excel is just a sequence of memorized keystrokes that do a bunch of things when you hit a single key. Of course, people already do much more complex things than that: like use their iPhone to turn on the lights in their house and adjust the temperature before they get home.

How much more productive would you be if a digital version of yourself could do the grocery shopping? How about if it could get your car inspected? What if it could go to a lecture you’re not sure is worthwhile, evaluate it as you would, and report back on it?