Wednesday, April 22, 2015

We think it likely, too

Econometricians of the world, unite; Perish the thought! It would have been fun if Ken Rogoff had mentioned some more smarty-pants names, though;
What of Solow’s famous 1987 remark that “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the statistics”? Perhaps, but one has to wonder to what extent the statistics accurately capture the welfare gains embodied in new goods during a period of such rapid technological advancement. Examples abound. In advanced countries, the possibilities for entertainment have expanded exponentially, with consumers having at their fingertips a treasure-trove of music, films and TV that would have been unimaginable 25 years ago. Quality-of-health improvements through the low-cost use of statins, ibuprofen and other miracle drugs are widespread. It is easy to be cynical about social media, but the fact is that humans enormously value connectively, even if GDP statistics really cannot measure the consumer surplus from these inventions. Skype and other telephony advances allow a grandmother to speak with a grandchild face to face in a distant city or country. Disruptive technologies such as Uber point the way towards vastly more efficient uses of the existing capital stock. Yes, there are negative trends such as environmental degradation that detract from welfare, but overall it is quite likely that measured GDP growth understates actual growth, especially when measured over long periods. It is quite possible that future economic historians, using perhaps more sophisticated measurement techniques, will evaluate ours as an era of strong growth in middle-class consumption, in contradiction to the often polemic discussion one sees in public debate on the issue.
Iow, the middle-class has only disappeared into their larger homes, to watch one of the hundreds of cable/satellite TV channels available on their high definition, wide screen televisions, while snacking on their choice among the abundant variety of edibles, and washing it down with one of hundreds of beverages from around the world. While at the same time shopping from their couches at Amazon or Wal-Mart.

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