Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Great Stagnation

Great Bloggingheads pairing with Matthew Yglesias and Tyler Cowen discussing Cowen's new e-book The Great Stagnation:

Cowen's point is that growth has been generally slower since the 1970s than during the period before because all the "low hanging fruit," (easily exploitable economic opportunities) has been used up. Growth in the period since can be accounted for mostly by hard-won scientific and technological discoveries.

Moving forward, Cowen seems to be pessimistic that real growth will only get harder to achieve. My question is: am I the only one who has the feeling that major technological changes are right around the corner? Leaving aside singularity talk, take two of the major problems threatening government and consumer balance sheets: health care and energy.

There is nothing a doctor does today that can't be done by a sophisticated enough computer program, maybe a sophisticated enough MRI machine, and a technician. Get rid of the need for a lot of doctors, and you have real savings. This never comes up in the health care debate: sufficient technology could be the one thing that will bring health care spending under control. Seems like pie-in-the-sky now, but might look more like "low hanging fruit" in the future.

Or take this optimistic look at the future of solar energy from the Guardian, via GOOD:

If technology can make the health care and energy production much cheaper, leaving people with extra money to spend on other things, how can that not translate into economic growth? Maybe I've got my head in the clouds, but this really doesn't seem far off.

UPDATE: Is that doctor Watson

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