|Lecture handout: Stagnation*
Textbook Reading: Chapter 12 (Section 12.3; pp. 413-421)
- Eichengreen, Barry, 2015, “Secular Stagnation: The Long View.” American Economic Review, 105 (5): 66-70.
- Cowen, Tyler, “Ten Ways to Live a Less Complacent Life”, LinkedIn, May 2017
- Thierer, Adam, “How Many Lives Are Lost Due to the Precautionary Principle?” The Bridge, expert commentary, October 2019
- Dourado, Eli, “Notes on technology in the 2020s“, December 31st 2020
- Southwood, Ben, “Scientific slowdown is not inevitable“, Works in Progress, April 21st 2022
Here’s a concerning thought: “Half of all scientific papers were published in the last 12 years, but much less than half of all scientific progress has happened in that time” (link).
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).
The lecture provided some pessimistic views on transformative breakthroughs. But every now and then I notice the power of steady, incremental progress. For example:
40 years of improved precision engineering and execution speed https://t.co/pDLGbeeqAN
— Roberto Alonso González Lezcano (@robertoglezcano) February 2, 2020
For a survey of potential breakthrough technologies see:
- Weinersmith, K., and Weiner, Z., 2017, Soonish, Penguin
In December 2020 Tyler Cowen provided a list of new technologies that may mark the end of the great stagnation. He included:
- Apple’s M1, GPT-3
- DeepMind’s application of AI to protein folding
- phase III for a credible malaria vaccine
- a CRISPR/sickle cell cure
- the possibility of a universal flu vaccine
- mRNA vaccines
- ongoing solar power progress
- new batteries for electric vehicles
- a possibly new method for Chinese fusion
- Moving away from passwords
- Coronavirus variant tracking
- A long-lasting grid battery
- Artificial intelligence for protein folding
- GlaxoSmithKline’s malaria vaccine
- Proof of stake
- COVID-19 antiviral pills
- Practical fusion reactors
- Synthetic data for training AI
- The world’s largest carbon removal factory in Iceland
Here is a podcast with Eli Dourado:
My conversation with @elidourado on what may drive an increase in economic productivity in the 2020s:
– energy (geothermal)
– information technology
— Patrick OShaughnessy (@patrick_oshag) May 11, 2021
Some of my favourite “no brainer” growth drivers include:
I suspect that future growth requires a cultural shift toward the principle of progress, and this involves a shift to longer term thinking. This post by Max Roser nicely presents the importance of “Longtermism”.
Here is a powerful and fascinating account of why advances in artificial wombs are so important, and I encourage all students to read it and reflect carefully on whether we should:
- Alter the 14 day rule on keeping embryos in labs.
- Invest more in Femtech.
For more on Permissionless Innovation:
A good, uplifting account of how creativity can result from not asking permission:
The importance of ideas:
|Learning Objectives: Understand the debate around secular stagnation.
Cutting edge theory: A survey of potentially transformative breakthrough technologies.
Focus on diversity: Virginia Postrel’s book, The Future and it’s Enemies, encapsulates the distinctions made at the end of the lecture.