Monday 2011-01-31

Tyler Cowen just posted an nyt op-ed on innovation and incomes where he ties lack of innovation over the past few decades to stagnating median incomes. Thanks to Paul Romer, we now think that economic production = some function of Kapital, Labor, and Technology. And since increases in technology = innovation, we should want more innovation.

Only no one has a concrete plan that says: do A, then B, then C, and you get an increase in technology.

Cowen ends up worrying over the state of innovation, while not being able to do a single thing about it. In jumping to his conclusion, though, he hasn't gone through and verified that all of our low-hanging technological fruits have been completely consumed.

In Fogel's TheEscapeFromHungerAndPrematureDeath, we see the large impact that public health measures have had on our standard of living. Have we squeezed every last benefit out of those technologies? No.

Did you know that the dominant vector for influenza in the United States is our schoolchildren? That by vaccinating our kids every year, we would have virtually flu-free winters? Or what percentage of our working population runs at lower output due to fixable fitness issues? Or vaccinating 10-year-old children against HPV will spare the females significantly higher chances of cervical cancer later in their lives?

Both of these issues will undoubtedly raise hackles left and right. However, using our energy to discuss them will be worth much more to us, because those technologies already exist.