Some people get quite excited about the growth benefits and externalities from investing in more human capital such as more young people going to university. In New Zealand, the number of graduates quadrupled over the last 30 years but the trend GDP growth rate is unchanged. Please explain?
Economics used to be a young man’s game but no more. Considerable investment is needed in learning your craft before people start publishing, much less get into the top journals.
Some countries have experienced large increases in the number of young people graduating from University when compared to their parents. Germany and the USA aside, all countries have experienced a noticeable increase in young adults with tertiary degrees.
If human capital is such a major driver of economic growth, should not these countries with large increases in tertiary educated workers be anticipating a growth spurt? The gaps in tertiary attainment across the OECD are much less than they used to be for young adults. Ireland’s burst in tertiary educated workers was after the Celtic Tiger years, not before or during.
The best the Minister for Economic Development, Steven Joyce, could do in response to my recent report on corporate welfare was nit-picking. Joyce said my definition of corporate welfare was flawed and that spending on R&D will grow the economy. He said
“To brand things like tourism promotion and building cycle-ways as corporate welfare is, I think, creative but not accurate at all.”
Joyce also said my report was
just somebody picking out a whole bunch of government programmes that in many cases don’t involve payments to firms at all…
Those that do involve payments to firms are specifically designed to encourage the development for example of the business R&D industry. Politicians don’t choose them.
Payments in kind are business subsidies. R&D is so important to the economy that the last thing you want is its direction to be biased by funding from government. Bureaucrats have a conservative bias and do not fund oddballs and long shots. The oddballs and hippies in the picture below could only afford the photo because they won a radio competition in Arizona.
The R&D expenditure that was criticised in my report was commercialisation, not basic research, which was specifically praised. Which research to commercialise is for entrepreneurs.
There is no reason whatsoever to think bureaucrats administering R&D subsidy budgets set by politicians are any better than private entrepreneurs at picking the next big thing.
If bureaucrats were any good at picking winners, were any good at beating the market, they would go work for a hedge fund on an astronomically better salary package. The salary package of one top hedge fund manager exceeds the entire payroll budget of most New Zealand government departments including those administering R&D subsidies and other hand-outs.
Government expenditure in vital areas such as innovation should be justified on the basis of cost-benefit ratios and a rationale for why bureaucrats have superior access to information about the entrepreneurial prospects of unproven technologies and product prototypes.
Subsidies should not be defended because of their popularity and sexiness as Mr Joyce did for the film industry, tourism promotion and ultra-fast broadband
If they told New Zealanders that in their view tourism promotion should be cancelled, the film industry should close down, that their shouldn’t be any ultra-fast broadband…I don’t think people would be that enamoured with it.
On irrigation funding, Mr. Joyce cited a report by NZIER that found irrigation contributes $2.2 billion to the economy. Irrigation is a private good which can funded by pricing it properly including the recovery of capital costs. There is no case for a subsidy.
Public goods have spillovers, private goods such as water and irrigation do not. Users can fund the irrigation themselves buying as little or as much water as they are willing to pay out for out their own pockets. The NZIER report noted that it was not about the case for public funding:
… we are not able to quantify the environmental or social impacts if irrigation had never occurred. We also do not attempt to investigate the relative merits of public versus private sector funding of the schemes.
If only Paul Ehrlich had been right! Population explosion would have meant an explosion in people who could invent new technologies and populate in much larger markets to provide an incentive to invent new products.
Among Paul Ehrlich’s many analytical errors, he did not take into account that more people meant more inventors and more untapped markets.
Jones argued that in the very long run the only way to have further innovation is to have more people. If there are more people undertaking R&D and more people to populate the markets for those inventions, there will be further growth because the decreasing returns to knowledge creation will be overcome by having more R&D workers.
Jones attributes much of the growth in the 20th century to one-off effects that cannot be repeated such as putting more people into higher education:
… growth in educational attainment, developed-economy R&D intensity, and population are all likely to be slower in the future than in the past. These factors point to slower growth in US living standards.
Second, a counterbalancing factor is the rise of China, India, and other emerging economies, which likely implies rapid growth in world researchers for at least the next several decades.
Third, and more speculatively, the shape of the idea production function introduces a fundamental uncertainty into the future of growth. For example, the possibility that artificial intelligence will allow machines to replace workers to some extent could lead to higher growth in the future.
A larger population increases the rate of technological progress by increasing the number of geniuses and other creative people.The doomsday prophecies about the population bomb never took that into account. That is why they are wrong.