technology

“They used a pencil”: technology adoption in different countries

I now live in the United States, and amongst the differences from the otherwise-similar places I’ve lived before, Australia and the UK, is the adoption of domestic technologies here. The contrast between America and the UK seems greatest, with Australia – like in so many respects – sitting somewhere in between.

Americans living in Britain famously bemoan the lack of mixer taps on bathroom sinks, forcing one to choose between freezing and scalding, or mix the two in the basin. But it goes well beyond this. Based on my experiences so far, certain amenities seem to be more or less standard in medium-grade-and-above housing in America: dishwashers, garbage disposal units and air-conditioning being three particular examples. (more…)

Growth slowdown (3): perhaps the mid-century growth spurt was just catch-up

(Back to the overview post)

This is much more speculative, but perhaps within-country divergence and convergence explains more of the time-variation in national growth rates than we realise.

One of the very useful reminders of William Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts is that the nation-state is often not the appropriate unit at which to consider big questions of growth and development. For example, if we look at per capita gross world product, there is no slowdown to explain. In fact growth seems to accelerate in the final quarter of the 20th century. The growth-pessimists will respond that this is merely ‘catch-up’, countries far from the technology- and productivity- frontier moving closer to it, rather than a pushing-forward of the frontier itself.

Of course they’re correct, but if that reasoning applies to the late-20th and early-21st century world, why should it not apply within the mid-20th century United States?

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Growth slowdown (2): GDP is a measure of a mid-20th century industrial economy

(Back to the overview post)

The invention of modern national accounting, which includes the construction of GDP estimates, is credited to Kuznets and others, who did pioneering work on measuring output in the 1930s and 1940s. Ever since it was invented, thoughtful economists have cautioned against using GDP as a measure of welfare; all the while most other economists do just that.The standard criticisms of national output are outlined in clarity by the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi commission, or more poetically by Robert Kennedy:

 

I would express these specific criticisms in a common way:

GDP measures the things that seemed important in 1940.

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