So long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being


A lot of occupations that didn’t exist years ago: two college graduate daughters, one a web designer for a financial firm, other works with a company that does social media marketing. Didn’t exist when they were born. Proliferation of new occupations.

Harder to be a Renaissance person. It was imaginable 400 years ago that you could read, master a relatively large part of the world’s knowledge. Seen it argued that Leibniz knew just about everything that could be known at that time. Da Vinci superior in many fields. Now a Renaissance person if you are good in a couple of things, if you know something about a lot of things. The cost of mastering a lot of things has gone up. (…) How much could a Newton or Leibniz today master? Not all of it. When we went to graduate school in economics (…) Finance was around, but behavioral economics and experimental economics were not, or were less prominent. I used to call myself a macroeconomist–I can’t follow macroeconomics; sort of can; highly mathematical, Euler equation stuff. (…) Profusion of journals in every discipline. If you want to call yourself a master of any field, not sure that leads to true mastery. (…)

Knowledge is more dispersed. Not just an issue for people trying to become academics. True for somebody in business: if you want to be a CEO, there are many more things you have to understand than you used to. You didn’t have to understand information technology to be a CEO. Didn’t have to be an expert in global supply chain management. Didn’t necessarily have to understand logistics, be as sophisticated in finance.

Even for consumers, amount of knowledge you need is more. More different financial instruments available for you to either trip up on or take advantage of. All sorts of different products and services that didn’t exist. (…) Households are outsourcing more of the food preparation, cleaning, lawn care, more complex forms of electronic communication–have cell phone, do you still keep your land line? Life more complex for everybody. Weird thing. Have computer network in house, access Internet wirelessly; running an IT center. Measurement question: has my house gotten more specialized or less specialized? What am I doing with an IT network in my house? Verizon supplies it; I don’t master much of it other than opening the door to let someone in to drill in my wall. Hard to measure these phenomena. Makes us very much dependent on other people’s expertise.

{ Arnold Kling/EconTalk | Continue reading }