Friday, June 20, 2008

Dismal Science Sees Upbeat Future

Alex Tabarrok on how economics gives strong reasons for optimism for a brighter tomorrow:
Amazingly, there are only about 6 million scientists and engineers in the entire world, nearly a quarter of whom are in the U.S. Poverty means that millions of potentially world-class scientists today spend their lives trying to eke out a subsistence living, rather than leading mankind's charge into the future. But if the world as a whole were as wealthy as the U.S. and were devoting the same share of population to research and development, there would be more than five times as many scientists and engineers worldwide.

New ideas mean more growth, and even small changes in economic growth rates produce large economic and social benefits. At current income levels, with an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 3% per year, America's real per capita gross domestic product would exceed $1 million per year in just over 100 years, more than 22 times higher than it is today. Growth like that could solve many problems.

In the 20th century, two world wars diverted the energy of two generations from production to destruction. When the horrors ended, the world was left hobbled and split. Communism isolated much of the world, reducing trade in goods and ideas--to everyone's detriment. World poverty meant that the U.S. and a few other countries shouldered the burdens of advancing knowledge nearly alone.

The battles of the 20th century were not fought in vain. Trade, development and the free flow of people and ideas are uniting all of humanity, maximizing the incentives and the means to produce new ideas. This gives us reason to be highly optimistic about the future.
Read the whole thing.

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