Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great Stagnation

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding innovation prompted by Tyler Cowen's new book The Great Stagnation. Part of the argument is that the rate of innovation has slowed. He acknowledges innovation in information technology but seems to discount its importance to the general population. While I think its clear that innovation and changes in productivity are not constant over time, I'm skeptical that we are in the midst of period of unusually slow rates of innovation, or that the changes in information technology have not had a large and widespread influence. This is what I wrote in The National Economy in 2006
" Observation of everyday life appears to support the productivity data and suggests the rate of innovation accelerated during the 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 1985, most college students, like students for decades before them, went to the library to do research with books and journals, took hand-written notes, and typed papers on typewriters while listening to vinyl records. In 2005, students use laptop computers, smaller than portable typewriters, to access more research material online than was available in many college libraries in the 1980s. They type up papers on the same laptop using a word processing program that points out spelling and grammatical errors, and allows them to edit by cutting and pasting without having to retype anything. The vinyl records, first replaced by CDs, are now replaced by other electronic forms of music storage, with thousands of songs stored in devices the size of on old tape cassette. They carry phones smaller than a wallet, and the phones can make calls, store phone numbers, send text messages, receive voice mail, take and send video images, store information, and serve as a calculator."
One might note that I was writing about college students, but looking around now I believe I could say virtually the same thing of 5th graders surfing the internet, while listening to iPods, and texting.

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