A few years ago I presented a paper at the meetings of Society for Social Studies of Science in which I mentioned Nordhaus’s wonderful paper in which he measures advances in technology that produce illumination. Some of the technologies represent leapfrog advances that are part of Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction.
At the end of my presentation, a member of the audience gave me a reference to the new L.E.D. light technology that he suggested was the next leapfrog advance. (Alas, I do not remember his name.)
(p. C3) L.E.D. bulbs, with their brighter light and longer life, have already replaced standard bulbs in many of the nation’s traffic lights. Indeed, the red, green and yellow signals are — aside from the tiny blinking red light on a DVD player, a cellphone or another electronic device — probably the most familiar application of the technology.
But it is showing up in more prominent spots. The ball that descends in Times Square on New Year’s Eve is illuminated with L.E.D.’s. And the managers of the Empire State Building are considering a proposal to light it with L.E.D. fixtures, which would allow them to remotely change the building’s colors to one of millions of variations.
. . .
The problem, though, is the price. A standard 60-watt incandescent usually costs less than $1. An equivalent compact fluorescent is about $2. But in Europe this September, Philips, the Dutch company dealing in consumer electronics, health care machines and lighting, is to introduce the Ledino, its first L.E.D. replacement for a standard incandescent. Priced at $107 a bulb, it is unlikely to have more than a few takers.
“L.E.D. performance is there, but the price is not,” said Kevin Dowling, a Philips Lighting vice president . . .
. . .
“The Marcus Center lighting will require no maintenance for 15 years,” Mr. Gregory said. “That’s a dream for a lighting designer.”
But he does not expect standard bulbs to disappear totally. Just as the invention of the light bulb did not completely kill the candle and kerosene lamp markets, Mr. Gregory said, “there will always be a need for incandescent bulbs. They will never totally go away.”
“The way an incandescent bulb plays on the face on a Broadway makeup mirror,” he said, “you can never duplicate that.”
For the full story, see:
ERIC A. TAUB. “Fans of L.E.D.’s Say This Bulb’s Time Has Come.” The New York Times (Mon., July 28, 2008): C3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
The reference to the Nordhaus paper is:
Nordhaus, William D. “Do Real-Output and Real-Wage Measures Capture Reality? The History of Light Suggests Not.” In The Economics of New Goods, edited by Robert J. Gordon and Timothy F. Bresnahan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press for National Bureau of Economic Research, 1997, pp. 29-66.
“The full spectrum of color, design and programming available for the Times Square ball.” Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.
(p. 26) Even the wisest of them were at a hopeless disadvantage, for their only guide in sorting it all out—the only guide anyone ever has—was the past, and precedents are worse than useless when facing something entirely new. They suffered another handicap. As medieval men, crippled by ten centuries of immobility, they viewed the world through distorted prisms peculiar to their age.
In all that time nothing of real consequence had either improved or declined. Except for the introduction of waterwheels in the 800s and windmills in the late 1100s, there had been no inventions of significance. No startling new ideas had appeared, no new terri-(p. 27)tories outside Europe had been explored. Everything was as it had been for as long as the oldest European could remember. The center of the Ptolemaic universe was the known world—Europe, with the Holy Land and North Africa on its fringes. The sun moved round it every day. Heaven was above the immovable earth, somewhere in the overarching sky; hell seethed far beneath their feet. Kings ruled at the pleasure of the Almighty; all others did what they were told to do. Jesus, the son of God, had been crucified and resurrected, and his reappearance was imminent, or at any rate inevitable. Every human being adored him (the Jews and the Muslims being invisible). The Church was indivisible, the afterlife a certainty; all knowledge was already known. And nothing would ever change.
The mighty storm was swiftly approaching, but Europeans were not only unaware of it; they were convinced that such a phenomenon could not exist. Shackled in ignorance, disciplined by fear, and sheathed in superstition, they trudged into the sixteenth century in the clumsy, hunched, pigeon-toed gait of rickets victims, their vacant faces, pocked by smallpox, turned blindly toward the future they thought they knew—gullible, pitiful innocents who were about to be swept up in the most powerful, incomprehensible, irresistible vortex since Alaric had led his Visigoths and Huns across the Alps, fallen on Rome, and extinguished the lamps of learning a thousand years before.
Manchester, William. A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Portrait of an Age. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1993.
(Note: italics in original.)
“Fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient astronomical computer built by the Greeks around 80 B.C. It was found on a shipwreck by sponge divers in 1900, and its exact function still eludes scholars.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.
(p. A12) After a closer examination of a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology known as the Antikythera Mechanism, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.
The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, on Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes.
Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 B.C., invented a planetarium calculating motions of the Moon and the known planets and wrote a lost manuscript on astronomical mechanisms. . . .
. . .
Only now, applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, have experts been able to decipher inscriptions and reconstruct functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The latest research has revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar.
In the journal report, the team led by the mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, in Cardiff, Wales, said the month names “are unexpectedly of Corinthian origin,” which suggested “a heritage going back to Archimedes.”
For the full story, see:
JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. “Discovering How Greeks Computed in 100 B.C.” The New York Times (Thurs., July 31, 2008): A12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
As I think about the current financial crisis, I have been struck by the uncertainty among economists about what should be done. Many economists are silent. Those who speak, have offered very diverse opinions. And even among those who express opinions, there is a lack of confidence in their opinions.
Milton Friedman used to say that economists will be listened to when there is a crisis, and that economists need to be ready, as Friedman himself was with his floating exchange rate proposal. (Milton, we need you again.)
I believe that one lesson from the current crisis is that we need reform—reform of economists’ research priorities and methods. We should become more interested in policy relevance, history and institutions; and less interested in mathematical rigor.
We should avoid what Schumpeter called “the Ricardian Vice.” (Highly stylized, aggregated models, based on unrealistic simplifying assumptions, that are then blindly applied to policy decisions in the actual, richly “thick” world—see McCloskey’s essay on thick and thin methods in economics.)
We also should spend less time in studying cute, counter-intuitive results (“freakonomics”), and spend more time on the big issues.
We should be willing to suggest institutional reforms and experiments, and participate in experiments (natural and artificial) to see how they work. (Spontaneous order is nice when it happens, but entrepreneurial vision and initiative can improve the world too.)
Capitalism has produced huge gains in longevity and standards of living. Yet capitalism is in danger of being hobbled or destroyed.
Schumpeter warned of “the crumbling of the protecting walls.” We should have been better prepared to rebuild and defend them.
Note: The “Ricardian Vice” phrase is from Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis, p. 473; the “protecting walls” phrase is from Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, p. 143.
The McCloskey essay mentioned is:
McCloskey, Deirdre. “Thick and Thin Methodologies in the History of Economic Thought.” In The Popperian Legacy in Economics, 245-57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Source of the graph: online version of the NYT article cited below.
(p. A1) Young women in New York and several of the nation’s other largest cities who work full time have forged ahead of men in wages, according to an analysis of recent census data.
The shift has occurred in New York since 2000 and even earlier in Los Angeles, Dallas and a few other cities.
Economists consider it striking because the wage gap between men and women nationally has narrowed more slowly and has even widened in recent years among one part of that group: college-educated women in their 20s. But in New York, young college-educated women’s wages as a percentage of men’s rose slightly between 2000 and 2005.
The analysis was prepared by Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, who first reported his findings in Gotham Gazette, published online by the Citizens Union Foundation. It shows that women of all educational levels from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men’s wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent. Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men.
Just why young women at all educational levels in New York and other big cities have fared better than their peers elsewhere is a matter of some debate. But a major reason, experts say, is that women have been graduating from college in larger numbers than men, and that many of those women seem to be gravitating toward major urban areas.
For the full story, see:
SAM ROBERTS. "For Young Earners in Big City, a Gap in Women’s Favor." The New York Times (Fri., August 3, 2007): A1 & A16.
Source of the graph: online version of the NYT article cited above.
McCraw on the third part of Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:
(p. 359) In answer to the question that opens Part III, “Can socialism work?” Schumpeter responds with the provocative statement, “Of course it can.” But a close reading of the subsequent text reveals that he actually means, “Of course (p. 360) it can’t,” at least in comparison with capitalism. He is now writing in full ironic mode, like the satirist Johnathan Swift. “A Modest Proposal”—Swift’s famous pamphlet of 1729—had suggested that problems of famine and overpopulation could be met by one simple step: feeding children from poor families to the rich. His proposal, Swift argued, was “innocent, cheap, easy and effectual.”
Schumpeter’s Swiftian approach to socialism recalls to mind the delight he took as a young man in Vienna’s coffeehouses, where political and artistic discussion often continued well into the night. In this kind of setting, no proposition was too absurd or too subtly hedged with conditions and exceptions . Speakers won admiration for their sarcasm and wit, no less than for the cogency of their arguments. To puncture a point of view while seeming to recommend it was especially delicious.
McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.
Source of the graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.
(p. A9) The Arctic contains just over a fifth of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural-gas resources, according to a review released Wednesday, confirming its potential as the final frontier for energy exploration.
A report by the U.S. Geological Survey found that the area north of the Arctic Circle has an estimated 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — nearly two-thirds the proved gas reserves of the entire Middle East — and 90 billion barrels of oil.
The report, the culmination of four years of study, is one of the most ambitious attempts to assess the Arctic’s petroleum potential. One of its main findings is that natural gas is three times as abundant as oil in the Arctic, and most of that gas is concentrated in Russia.
The survey reflects interest in an area once off-limits to oil exploration. It has become more accessible as global warming reduces the polar icecap, opening valuable new shipping routes, oil fields and mineral deposits.
For the full story, see:
GUY CHAZAN. “Cold Comfort: Arctic Is Oil Hot Spot; Hard-to-Reach Energy Reserves Limit Potential.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 24, 2008): A9.
JAD MOUAWAD. “Oil Survey Says Arctic Has Riches.” The New York Times (Thurs., July 24, 2008): C1 & C4.
“A Canadian ranger looks along the length of one of the gaping new cracks in the large Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, in an April photo. Climate change is opening up the region’s potential for energy exploration.” Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.