This year’s Nobel for economics is a technology prize!

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On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in economic sciences to two American economists, William Nordhaus of Yale University and Paul Romer of New York University’s Stern School of Business. Romer is well-known for his work on innovation, and although the committee focused on Nordhaus’ research on climate change, this year’s prize is really all about technology and its central role in economic growth.

Paul Romer, who with William Nordhaus received the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics, speaks at the New York University (NYU) Stern School of Business in New York City, October 8, 2018 – via REUTERS

Romer’s 1990 paper “Endogenous technological change” is one of the most famous and cited of the past several decades. Until then, the foundational theory of economic growth was Robert Solow’s model. It said growth was the result of varied quantities of capital and labor, which we could control, and a vague factor known as the Residual, which included scientific knowledge and technology. The Residual exposed a big limitation of the Solow model. Capital and labor were supposedly the heart of the model, and yet technology accounted for the vast bulk of growth — something like 85 percent, compared to the relatively small contributions of capital and labor. Furthermore, technology was an “exogenous” factor (outside our control) which didn’t seem to explain the real world. If technology was a free-floating ever-present factor, equally available across the world, why did some nations or regions do far better or worse than others?Read More

Are capital markets healthy? Thoughts on IPOs, dwindling public firms, private equity, and politicized funds

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The bull market in U.S. stocks is now nine years old, one of the longest such streaks in history. The United States boasts many of the world’s most valuable companies, and investors have enjoyed high returns with low volatility.

Yet there’s reason to wonder whether U.S. capital markets, broadly considered, are as healthy as they look. We asked this question two years ago and return to it now, with a little more data, a few more answers, but still many outstanding puzzles.

The number of publicly listed U.S. firms, for example, is just one half what it was in the mid-1990s. Depending on the type of listings counted, the number of U.S. public firms has fallen to a range of 3,500-4,000 today from a range of 7,500-8,000 in 1996. Adjusted for population, the number of publicly listed firms has dropped to 13 per million people from a peak of 30 per million. continue reading . . .


Energy Industry Shows How Infotech Can Boost Productivity

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America’s oil and gas boom has been one of the biggest economic stories of the past decade. The doubling of daily US oil output and the 50 percent increase in natural gas production have transformed energy markets and are altering the geostrategic landscape. Russia, for example, is desperately lashing out, while Saudi Arabia is showing signs of an ambitious political, economic, and cultural modernization.

The US energy boom is interesting for another reason. It’s a demonstration of how the physical industries, which too often underperform their innovative potential, can boost productivity through creative use of information.

The energy industry had known about petroleum soaked shale formations for 100 years. What it lacked was a cost-effective way to pinpoint the formations and unleash and extract the oil and gas from the rock. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing were of course the key to unlocking the shale resources.

These mechanical innovations, however, were themselves made possible and perfected by infotech, such as 3D seismic modeling, cloud computing, and big data. Pinpointing the formations and the very best places to crack them took massive computer power. Guiding the drills many miles under — and then horizontally across — the earth’s surface took precision guidance systems. The data generated from the models and experiences were then refined to constantly improve the process. In so doing, oil and gas drilling today looks more like an advanced manufacturing process than the hit-and-hope, drill-and-pump process of the past.

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