Activity: Transformative Innovations
Lecture handout: Stagnation*

⭐ Required readings:

Recommended audio:

Here’s a great image showing a long-term timeline of technology (but notice the gap between smartphones and Now):

According to Max Grossman, as of 2021 half of all scientific papers that had even been published had come in the last 12 years, and yet much less than half of scientific progress had happened in that same period.

Consider the following:

Ad yet, I was saddened to learn recently that same amount of time had passed between the first human airplane flight and the first human spaceflight as between the first spaceflight and 2018 (see here).

Here’s a photo of Lady Priscilla Norman on her electric scooter, taken in 1917!

To some extent this lecture is about trying to work out what happened in the early 1970s. This website poses the same question:

Some interesting (and possibly related) facts about this period:

  1. Productivity and hourly compensation appear to derail:
  2. Also see here:
  3. Energy consumption flatlines in the 1970s (great news for environmentalists!)
  4. The average age of the US population begins to rise – this is because the US fertility rate falls below the replacement rate… and stays there (source):
  5. Number of beards increases dramatically in the mid 1970s (source):

6. In 1973 Barbara Jordan (Texas) and Andrew Young (Georgia) become the first southern black representatives in congress since 1901 (see DeLong 2022, p. 381).

7. EAP (forerunner to ESCP Business School) is founded in 1973:

8. Life on Mars is set in 1974

Perhaps, in future, people will look back on 2007 and say “what happened??”

9. The 1973 Chilean coup d’etat (Pinochet became President in 1974)

The lecture provided some pessimistic views on transformative breakthroughs. But every now and then I notice the power of steady, incremental progress. For example:

Noah Smith has a nice Twitter thread on progress since 1970.

This website: My Ordinary Life: Improvements since the 1990s 

Here’s a great video showing the progress made in car passenger safety:

Learning Objectives: Understand the scholarly literature on the secular stagnation thesis