Episode 77 – 25th March 2011



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Secularist of the Year (3:42) by James O’Malley (ft Sophie in’t Veld)
Sue Cox interview (11:27) by Liz Lutgendorff
Principles of war in Libya (18:10) by Adam Jacobs
The Great Stagnation (28:06) by Jon Treadway (ft Tyler Cowen)
Technological Stagnation (38:07) by Pete Hague
Meteorites and LIFE (45:29) by Kash Farooq
Georgie Clause is coming to town (49:32) by Will Battle & James Firth (lyrics after the break)

Charity appeals at the beginning and end are by Sean Ellis & Martyn Norris.

Follow-up links:

Georgie Claus is coming to town

You better watch out
You might want to cry
The Budget’s Out
And Osborne’s been sly

Georgie Claus is coming to town!
He’s made a list
It’s quite precise
A Tory mix of naughty and nice
Georgie Claus is coming to town!
His swinging cuts are sweeping,
But there’s icing on the cake!
A 1p cut in petrol prices
Makes up for that heart ache!

But you better watch out!
You might want to cry

Libraries are shut,
And inflation is high!
Georgie claus is coming to town
Georgie claus is coming to town

You better watch out
You might want to cry

naught-point-eight percent cut
When fuel tax so high

Georgie Claus is coming to town!
Here’s the jist,
He’s skating on ice,
The headlines to-mor-row may well be nice
Georgie Claus is coming to town!
The de-vils in the detail!
His spin and lies are fake
A 1p cut in petrol prices
Is a cherry on a slipper snake!

So! you better watch out!
You might want to cry

You pay your tax

City traders get high!

Georgie claus is coming to town
Georgie claus is coming to town

And his bullshit budget will cost you a crown

14 thoughts on “Episode 77 – 25th March 2011

  1. Pingback: Assorted links
  2. Enjoyed Pete’s piece on Technological stagnation, but there are a couple of points I wanted to pick up.

    First off, I don’t think Cowen is arguing in TGS for market-based education. That’s not to say he doesn’t think it’s a good thing, only that I think TGS is neutral on the issue. His argument is that some areas of the biggest growth in the USA economy are also the areas where there is little or no evidence of improvement in quality – he cites healthcare, government consumption and education as examples.

    Sure, he uses the example of apples to highlight that in sectors where there is an effective market it is easier to measure quality. But this is not in and of itself an argument for the primacy of markets, or for more markets in education

    I also think it’s unfair to say he’s devaluing teachers. He’s a University lecturer himself, and he’s simply pointing to the fact that US education to K12 (ie primary & secondary) costs nearly twice as much but results don’t appear to have reflected this. Are test scores everything? No, but he readily accepts that. He suggestion is more nuanced, that a lot of the additional spending has gone on improved facilities which have not demonstrably improved the quality of education.

    I found the Moore’s law stuff fascinating, but I don’t see it as analogous to the ‘low hanging fruit’. Cowen’s argument centres on the fact that there has been a slowdown in the improvements to the quality of life over the last 40 years (approx) as demonstrated by lack of median income growth, and that the reason for this is the US is no longer benefiting from improvements due to ‘low hanging’ innovations.

    Moore’s law was first articulated in 1965, which ties in pretty closely with that 40 year period. So, if one accepts the broad thrust of Cowen’s argument, either Moore’s law hasn’t led to significant improvements median income, or has been offset by negative effects.

    One reason might be that increases in computing power have a complex impact on labour and therefore on median incomes and quality of life. Improvements in computing and robotics tend to be substitutes for human labour as often as they are complements. Also, tech industries do not employ many people. Put it a different way – every time the number of chips doubles, what impact does that have on jobs? I’d love to see some numbers, if anyone knows them.

  3. I didn’t mean to imply that Moore’s law was the driving force behind the stagnation, merely that it is a smaller-scale example of the same thing.

    The low-hanging fruit in this case is the knowledge that, if you shrink the transistor, you grow the industry. Also, shrinking the transistor merely requires decreasing the wavelength of light used for the lithography process (I say ‘merely’ but this does still require a fair bit of R&D to keep doing)

    Having such a clearly mapped out goal made innovation easier (low hanging fruit) whereas once the physical limit is reached, innovation targets are going to be less clear, and exponential improvement will be almost out of the question.

  4. Two points

    a) If you shrink the transistor, isn’t it possible you grow the industry but reduce the workforce (and hence lower median income)?

    b) What about Moore’s law as self-fulfilling prophecy? Isn’t it possible that, as a result of having such a clear goal set out, innovation that leads to improvements in median income have actually been stifled? If people strive to achieve breakthroughs in chip size, might they have neglected other areas?

  5. Its possible in both cases, I guess. I’m not an economist. I was simply examining Moore’s law from a physical point of view, as an exponential growth approaching its limit.

    I have assumed that improvements in this particular technology are linked to improvements in the living conditions, which I don’t think is especially unreasonable considering how far most of us go to integrate technology into our lives these days

  6. Agree – Moore’s law definitely a ‘good thing’, and also agree with the comment you make in the piece about economic laws being dependent on physical laws.

    But interesting that a low hanging fruit in physical terms may not lead simply to dramatic changes in quality of life in economic terms. Complex relationship.

  7. I can’t say for sure (I don’t know if anyone can) how improvements in semiconductor technology improve quality of life, but the fact I am sending you this message from a laptop that has more computing power than the entire planet did when NASA sent men to the moon suggests that it has some positive relationship.

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