A note on Robert Gordon

I have been reviewing what Robert J Gordon proposes. Here, for example, you can find for example a small TED talk with the summary of his proposal. His main thesis is that there have been three industrial revolutions and that nothing beats the second one: the invention of cars, airplanes, steel industry, chemical industry, strong manufacturing, petroleum, and so on. In his way of viewing things, no future invention can really bolster growth the way the 1900s had it.

One strong toy example in favor of this thesis is a simple kitchen. If you think about the potential inventions of a regular kitchen: the fridge, the sink, the oven, and so on, most of the inventions come from the second industrial revolution Robert Gordon refers to. Furthermore, if one wonders what the next revolution could be, it is not clear exactly what. He also says that robots are far from being anywhere close to replacing humans in simple activities like serving at a restaurant.

Yet, what I find so counterintuitive is what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said in his Sherlock Holmes adventures: that sometimes the “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.” History has never stopped surprising us, as Malthus’s theory proved wrong in many instances, however compelling his arguments were.

Therefore, there is reason to be hopeful, although it is not exactly clear how. Joel Mokyr actually talks on this topic with Robert Gordon in a famous debate, which is worth watching. Two titans. We will someday know who is right. In the meantime, I will keep riding my bike!!

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