The Economics Nobel lectures

When we sat down for breakfast, I opened my iPad on Facebook, as usual at this time of day. I saw a notification from the Nobel Foundation that the Nobel lectures on economics were about to be streamed live. I had forgotten, in the hectic days of winding down the semester, to check for the schedule and I feel extremely lucky I got to watch these lectures by accident.

There was an unfortunate glitch with the audio which forced the stream to be stopped and restarted. As a result, I only got to watch properly the second half or so of the lecture by William Nordhaus, but the streaming of the lecture by Paul Romer went ahead after that without problems.

Both laureates gave great talks, I thought. Of course, I am biased in favor of Romer, as a former student of his. The same ability to explain deep, complicated mathematics that he displayed when I was taking his first-year mathematics-for-economists PhD course in Rochester in 1984 was evident in his engaging Nobel lecture. I particularly liked his one (and only!) slide beyond his cover slide, showing students in Africa reading their textbooks on the side of a highway near the local airport, because there were streetlights there, making it possible to study at night, while their houses had no such luxury

Romer went on to explain in very simple terms the way ideas and their sharing and combinations have made it possible for humans to make progress in material, as well as moral, terms. I was heartened by his talk about how technological progress has expanded the circle of people (and now other sentient beings) that many humans consider US rather than THEM.

Not a small contribution to human progress in both material and moral terms from Paur Romer, an undergraduate physics major who went on to get his PhD and launch his career by doing work that could have easily been considered too arcane, were it not for his commitment to share his ideas in the clearest possible terms for others to use and combine them for yet more ideas to help humans live better.

News organizations provide positive externalities, but we stand to lose them

Adblockers. They’re all the rage in discussions about the future of news organizations. This post on Medium by Dave Pell is one more restatement of the positive externalities generated by news organizations. While it is eloquent, it has no suggestion of how to deal with the problem. That’s because the problem of externalities is a genuinely hard one for our market-based economic organization (and way of thinking). Activities that generate positive externalities (and by extension public goods) are constantly under-provided and are likely to continue to be under-provided for the foreseeable future.