No Known Upper Bound for Economic Growth

Given the limited state of our knowledge of the process of technological change, we have no way to estimate what the upper bound on the feasible rate of growth for an economy might be. If economists had tried to make a judgment at the end of the 19th century, they would have been correct to argue that there was no historical precedent that could justify the possibility of an increase in the trend rate of growth of income per capita to 1.8% per year. Yet this increase is what we achieved in the 20th century. (p. 226)

Romer, Paul M. “Should the Government Subsidize Supply or Demand in the Market for Scientists and Engineers?” In Innovation Policy and the Economy, vol. 1, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001, pp. 221-252.

Private vs Public City Planning

Both private and public developers make judgments about the future market for their projects. When private developers’ judgments turn out to be wrong, they lose their money. When public developers’ judgments turn out to be wrong, they lose your money.

The Omaha By Design plan adopted by the City of Omaha envisions 72nd and Dodge framed with eight 10-story buildings and other taller structures stretching to a large residential complex at 76th Street. The drawings don’t resemble Bourn’s strip malls.
Wilke said he has seen the plan.
“That kind of visionary thinking is fun to engage in, but I don’t think it’s market-based,” he said. Another developer might see that as possible, he said, and Bourn Partners likes to do that kind of high-density, mixed-use development, but the company doesn’t see this part of the Omaha market as ready for that yet.
“We think the suburban scale is still what the market wants in that area,” Wilke said. (p. 2D)

DEBORAH SHANAHAN. Market drives projects around 72nd and Dodge.” Omaha World-Herald (Tuesday, August 9, 2005): 1D-2D.

Business at the city-owned Hilton Omaha is expected next year to fall $2 million short of generating the cash needed to cover its costs.

When the city built the hotel, predictions assumed that hotel revenues – not tax dollars – would be sufficient to pay it off.

C. DAVID KOTOK. City expects its Hilton to come up shy. Omaha World-Herald (Tuesday, August 9, 2005) online edition.

Stealing Indian Land

These lands once belonged to the Kiowas and the Crows, but we whipped these nations out of them, and in this we did what the white men do when they want the lands of the Indians. We met the Kiowas and the Crows and whipped them at the Kiowa Creek, just below where we now are. We met them and whipped them again, and the last time at Crow Creek.

Oglala Lakota Leader Black Hawk, 1851; as quoted in a display at the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, designed and built by the National Park Service, and observed on 8/13/05.

Tenure and the Market as Protectors of Free Thought

Mark Blaug as a young tutor at Queens College in New York, endorsed a student petition protesting the firing of a left-wing tenured professor for having refused to co-operate with the Un-American Activities Committee. Less than a day later, Blaug received a note from the President of Queens College, telling Blaug that his choice was either to resign or be fired. He resigned.
Fortunately, he received a grant from the Social Science Research Council to complete his dissertation, after which, again seeking employment, he obtained a job interview at Yale:

(p. 77) In the course of the interview, I felt impelled to explain how I had lost my previous teaching position at Queens College. I always remember how Fellner cut me off, saying: ‘We don’t want to hear about that. This is a private college and what transpired at a public university a few years ago is of no concern to us.’ I never had a better demonstration of Milton Friedman’s thesis that a free market, by multiplying the number of probable employers, is more likely to secure liberty for the individual than a socialist system in which the state is a monopsonist.

Source:
Blaug, Mark. “Not Only an Economist: Autobiographical Reflections of a Historian of Economic Thought.” In Reflections of Eminent Economists, edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan, 71-94. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004.

Enterprise and Government in Harry Potter

A long time ago (30 or 35 years) I attended some sessions on film and ideology at a week summer conference sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. At one session they screened Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and then the faculty panelists, with help from the audience, proceeded to thoroughly trash Capra for left-wing, anti-capitalist, populist bias. I sat and frowned and fumed, but the session ended without me having the courage to defend Capra. What I wish I had said was that Capra may have been a left-leaning populist; his economics may have been all wrong; but if that’s all you say, you miss the main point. The main point of Capra is loyalty, and persistence, and courage and good-humor. One can reject Capra’s implied economics and still love his movies.
Well on the night of Friday, July 15, 2005, with my wife and daughter, I hung out at the local Border’s book store with a huge crowd of other fans, waiting until the stroke of midnight to be allowed to purchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Similar scenes played out all over the country, and in other countries as well. Apparently the book, like its predecessor, is setting all kinds of sales records.
And analyses have begun to appear about Harry Potter’s economics and politics. (The July 15, 2005 Wall Street Journal ran a piece suggesting that Dumbledore is Winston Churchill and Voldemort is Adolph Hitler.) They too miss the main point.
The main point is that the leading heroes of the Potter books display loyalty, and persistence, and courage, and good-humor. And the characters are constructed as real people who we come to care about. And the books are well-written. And plot matters too–you need to find out what’s going to happen next.
Still, if you want to play the socio-political-economic interpretation game with the Potter books, I suggest the following facts might be relevant. Two of the minor heroes of the books, Fred and George Weasley, are successful entrepreneurs. The heads of the governmental Ministry of Magic are at best ineffectual, dishonest, pompous buffoons. And the seed money for Fred and George’s successful enterprise is provided by that most famous of venture capitalists: Harry Potter.
[Details on WSJ article: Jonathan V. Last. “History According to Harry: Appeasement Fails with Warlocks Too.” Wall Street Journal (Friday, July 15, 2005)]

A Case For School Vouchers in Nebraska

Create a marketplace
The solution to the impasse between Omaha Public Schools and the coalition of suburban school districts is to dissolve all school districts and declare each school an independent entity. Then issue vouchers to students and let them and their parents pick the schools of their choice.
There would be another round of consolidation, just as there was with the Baby Bell telephone companies. But it would be market-driven instead of being dictated by political boundaries.
The beneficiaries would be students and parents who would be free to pick schools offering the best educational value with no restrictions due to place of residence.
That’s real school choice.
Robert Ranney, Omaha

Source: Omaha-World Herald Public Pulse section, July 17, 2005.