Tag Archives: Current Events

You Are Panem’s Capitol

A reporter asked me how the world would be different if people took a year of leisure after each seven years of work, instead of retiring at 65, as I suggested in Why Retire? I guessed that young people would have more interesting stories to tell about what they did with their year off. More interesting at least than the typical retiree story of another year of golfing or organizing photo albums. As people get older they get more comfortable with set patterns, and less eager for adventure.

This might be good for their near needs, but less fits our far ideals about how we should live our lives. This is also probably why people tend to like marriage more than you might think from their youthful inclinations.

I thought of this while watching The Hunger Games. The book and movie express a strong sincere class and urban/rural envy and hatred. People from the heroine’s poor starving coal-mining District 12 are not allowed to leave or choose their laws, and are forcibly humiliated by the Capitol region, where folks live in lazy shallow luxury.

You might think this echoes your 99%er hatred of the 1%, but not only is the anti-urban-elite element strong here, on a cosmic scale you are more like Panem’s Capitol than District 12. Because unless humanity creates a strong permanent central government to control fertility, far future folk will return to very slow growth, and thus to near subsistence incomes. And you might consider what this vast horde will think of your rich ways.

Yes, you didn’t choose to live now, and you may have a right to spend your wealth any way you want. But future folk may have a right to hate or despise you, if they think you have mostly squandered the gift of living in our rare age of luxury. District 12 folks despise Capitol folk not just because their riches seem stolen, but also because they seem weak, shallow, selfish, and self-indulgent, with little sense of or contribution to larger possibilities. Future folk may think the same about you.

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Inspiring Innovation

My colleague Alex Tabarrok, has a new ebook Launching the Innovation Renaissance. It came out yesterday, and I immediately bought it and read it. Bryan loves it:

It … aims to reverse America’s Slight Stagnation with a handful of big evidence-based reforms. Especially:

1. Drastically narrow patent protection. …
2. Drastically increase (abolish?) high-skilled immigration quotas. …
3. Increase school choice, curtail the power of teachers’ unions, and stop pretending that non-STEM majors produce significant positive externalities.

I agree with most of Alex’s recommendations (which also include more prizes), and I think he focuses on our near-most-important policy question: how to promote long term growth and innovation. Alex is a good writer and knows his subjects well. He avoids academic lingo and his writing is accessible. But, alas, what struck me most reading Alex’s book are the natural limits to the emotional punch he can muster to his cause.

Following good academic norms, Alex mostly avoids blaming specific parties and being needlessly partisan, national, extreme, or overtly emotional. He appeals instead to the reader’s reasonableness and interest in the general good. And I’d like to think I’m the sort of person who is primarily motivated by such things. But if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that approach often falls flat emotionally.

I can feel the emotion more when Alex praises college sci/tech majors (I majored in physics), or favors positions that I’ve previously favored. And I can see the emotional potential if Alex had let himself cheerlead for technology, warn of foreign competition, or bemoan our “malise” or “stagnation.”

Alas, people don’t naturally care much about long term wide-spread growth and innovation. And the US just isn’t scared enough for its future for fear to motivate change. His title suggests he sought to pull on hope’s heartstrings, but Alex doesn’t really do much with that. So, while to his intellectual credit, Alex resists easy emotional appeals, the result is alas a well reasoned case that will probably be mostly ignored.

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