I’m finally returning to this blog with a post on economics and technology. It’s not much of a post, but it does represent an end to a long period of neglect of the blog.
Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson have a new book out, Power and Progress, released yesterday. I just grabbed an ebook copy and started reading it. This post will be the first of a series in which I will record my reactions. Here is an excerpt from the end of the preface, to show the gist of the main argument in the book:
“We wrote this book to show that progress is never automatic. Today’s “progress” is again enriching a small group of entrepreneurs and investors, whereas most people are disempowered and benefit little. A new, more inclusive vision of technology can emerge only if the basis of social power changes. This requires, as in the nineteenth century, the rise of counterarguments and organizations that can stand up to the conventional wisdom. Confronting the prevailing vision and wresting the direction of technology away from the control of a narrow elite may even be more difficult today than it was in nineteenth-century Britain and America. But it is no less essential.”
Excerpt From Power and Progress Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson
When I read the first tweet, I immediately saw “base-rate fallacy” flash in front of my eyes. It turned out not to be this at all. I recommend the thread, all of it, and some thinking about the malignant combination of inequality with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Others have discussed the insidious effects of inequality on the pandemic, of course. I am putting together some of those discussions and research for my materials for the economic inequality course I teach and the book on it I am drafting.)
I fear that our society, here in the U.S., is so committed to ignoring the importance of public goods, such as public health measures that mitigate infectious-disease transmission, that it is simply unable to deal with this pandemic effectively. As a result, we will probably see years of mutating Coronaviruses of the SARS-COVID variety, and will be consistently responding the wrong way to their emergence.
(I could of course have responded on Twitter, but I have decided to use this blog more and Twitter less for discussions like this. I am letting this be auto-tweeted, though. I may cease contributing to Twitter at all, depending of how big a mess EM makes of it once it is under his control.)