Reasons for Economic Growth: Don't Forget Human Capital
MIT economists and computer modelers are attempting to answer the age old question: "Why are some countries rich and some countries poor?" (via Next Big Future) They have framed the question in terms of economic growth, and have surrounded it with sophisticated computer modeling and visual representations, but they seem to have left out a crucial, central variable: human capital.
In the MIT model, the key variables considered are the diversity of economic "inputs" and diversity of economic "outputs" for a country.
Economists think of production in terms of inputs and outputs. The outputs are the goods that a country produces. The inputs are everything that’s required to produce those goods. In 19th-century America, lumber was an example of a product with relatively few inputs. Exporting it required little more than the manpower and tools to chop down trees and haul them to shipping ports. Twentieth-century digital-signal-processing chips, on the other hand, are products that require a lot of inputs: the ability to extract and purify exotic materials like gallium arsenide, computer-aided design software to produce circuit layouts, and the chemicals and vacuum chambers required for the deposition of different layers of material, among other things.
Hidalgo and Hausmann argue that the diversity of a country’s production capacity, and thus the true strength of its economy, depends on the diversity of both its outputs and its inputs. Two countries could export the same number of products — they could have the same diversity of outputs — but if one exports only garments, it’s likely to have many fewer inputs than a country that exports a mix of garments and other light manufacturing, agricultural products, electronics and cultural goods. And the country with more inputs, the researchers claim, will adapt better to a changing world economy. _MIT
Hidalgo and Hausmann have found that GDP correlates pretty well with diversity of outputs, but it correlates much better with diversity of inputs. And the cases where the correlation breaks down could actually be more interesting than the cases where it holds, because they could indicate economies poised for growth. In 1970, for instance, the Korean economy had much greater diversity of inputs, according to Hidalgo’s measure, than the Peruvian economy; but Peru had twice Korea’s GDP per capita. Over the next 30 years, the relative diversity of inputs in the two countries’ economies stayed more or less the same, but by 2003, Korea had four times Peru’s GDP per capita. _NextBigFutureHuman capital can be represented by several different markers. Levels of educational achievement, for example, can be seen as one measure of human capital. Quality of pre-natal care, child-raising, and early education are other very crucial metrics. But one assessment of human capital which absolutely cannot be neglected in the analysis of a nation's long-term economic trajectory, is the average population IQ.
There are many ingredients which go into the economic growth and success of a society, region, or nation. But any analysis which dances around the central issue of human capital, can easily be seen as a sophisticated smokescreen or obfuscation, rather than an attempt to get at the heart of the issue.
A nation's exports and imports are certainly important indicators of its economic health. But what is cause and what is effect? Clearly the MIT researchers are wrapped in a complex dynamic computer network of circular causation -- and potential infinite regress -- unless they can clearly identify variables which are more central and causative.
Political correctness has long been associated with the death of honest research and scholarship in many departments of academia. The ascendancy of post-modern multiculturalist ideology in the humanities departments and in administrative policies of universities has trickled down and spilled over into the social sciences -- even into some of the harder sciences. There are simply some topics and phenomena which one cannot even hint at, much less mention outright -- and far less make a topic of serious study.
Imagine all the time, effort, and resources being wasted at all levels of society, devoted to "dancing around the obvious." Entire huge and expensive departments of academia, media, industry, and government are devoted to obfuscating and denying truths which are obvious to any intelligent 6 year old.
But MIT has very big computers, very good tools of visual illustration, and very intelligent professors and researchers. Best to let them show them off, and pull the wool over society's eyes, using very sophisticated tools. Lie back and enjoy it. You'll feel much better about it all that way.