Bad Yardsticks

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apparently, I wasn't the only person contemplating the effect of digital technology on the economy Tuesday morning. A similarly-themed article appeared at Slate the same day.

[T]he Internet and computers tend to push costs toward zero, and have the capacity to reduce the need for labor. You are, of course, currently reading this article for free on a Web site supported not by subscriptions, but by advertising. You probably read a lot of news articles online, every day, and you probably pay nothing for them. Because of the decline in subscriptions, increased competition for advertising dollars, and other Web-driven dynamics, journalism profits and employment have dwindled in the past decade. (That Cowen writes a freely distributed blog and published his ideas in a $4 e-book rather than a $25 glossy airport hardcover should not go unnoted here.) Moreover, the Web- and computer-dependent technology sector itself does not employ that many people. And it does not look set to add workers: The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in information technology, for instance, will be lower in 2018 than it was in 1998. [links omitted]
In other words, increased productivity that manifests as more bang for the buck can easily go unmeasured by a money-based metric. As Annie Lowrey says later, "Maybe it is not the growth that is deficient. Maybe it is the yardstick that is deficient."

I will add now that one thing that neither Lowrey's article nor my post discuss is the economic drag of taxation, inflation, and government regulation on our economy. All these factors can skew such an analysis in unexpected ways, particularly the last.

-- CAV


In Other News

Fans of my old "Quick Roundup" miscellany posts will, I hope, be happy to learn that I have decided to bring them back, after a fashion. A while back, I decided to stop creating such posts more than once a week in order to save time. (My "Hodgepodge" weekend posts are the outgrowth of that decision.)

The extra time has been nice, but I frequently end up omitting lots of "blogworthy" material my readers might find interesting. On top of that, my plan to compensate by posting twice a few days of the week fell by the wayside long ago. My solution will be to add a short section to the end of some posts with the title above.

I will usually not make lengthy comments, again in the interest of saving time, so this new feature will typically look like this:

One-Line Blog Review: Enjoy The Futility Closet, but know that if you spend too much time there, you may find yourself in the hurt locker!

A Must-Read on Unions: Thomas Sowell busts several "Union Myths," first and foremost, "that unions are for the workers."

Power Rationing in England: As excerpted at The Tattler: "[T]he government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered, to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose." (HT: HBL)

Adapting to Blindness: Amit Ghate links to a very long, but fascinating and inspirational story about a man who uses echolocation to "see," teaches others how to do so, and is helping to develop related technology to the point that, "If money were no object, ... blind people could essentially mimic bats within five years."


: Corrected link to "Union Myths" article.


Kuoxsr said...

The "union myths" link is a fascinating article, and quite well written, but it's not quite what I was expecting when I clicked the link.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for pointing that out. The link has been corrected.

The incorrect link was to a piece I wrote on government regulations some time ago, so thanks for your comment on it, too.