Enjoy your new gadgets; you won’t be getting much new in the future

Enjoy your new gadgets; you won’t be getting much new in the future. By Gerard Baker.

We like to think we live in an age of unprecedented technological innovation and variety. The consumer tech revolution is just the tip of the iceberg; the processing of data and information has been transforming business and finance for decades in ways we don’t always see but surely feel. …

And yet … our assumptions about the unrelenting pace of innovation might be seriously misplaced. In fact, one of the most striking features of the decade about to end is the relative dearth of innovation.

Of course the 2010s have produced astonishing advances in technologies ..

But the number of genuinely groundbreaking new products and services has been relatively small in the past ten years, continuing a trend of innovation slowdown that has been under way for many decades.

Innovation Is Slowing Down, by Nicholas Bloom.

Productivity growth is slowing down in the US and other developed countries. In the 1950s American productivity was rising by more than 3% a year. This period of incredible progress was driven by the rapid expansion of research universities like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford; research labs in firms like General Electric and Ford; and the commercialization of technologies developed in World War II. By the 1980s, however, productivity growth had halved to 2%. It has now fallen to just 1% per year.

In research with three fellow economists (Chad Jones and Mike Webb, Stanford; and John Van Reenen, MIT), I argue that ideas productivity — the productivity of science and discovery — has been falling for decades. Scientific discoveries and technical advances are getting harder to find, and spending on R&D has not been increasing fast enough to offset these declines in productivity. Innovation is slowing down. …

Our analysis revealed that more than 20 times as many Americans are engaged in R&D today compared to 1930, yet their average productivity has dropped by a factor of more than 40. The only way the US has been able to maintain even its current lackluster GDP growth rate has been to throw more scientists and engineers at research problems. The US economy has had to double its research efforts every 13 years just to sustain the same overall rate of economic growth. …

One explanation is that the low-hanging fruit of ideas have been plucked. But that has always seemed the case.

Another explanation is that people are getting stupider. Social policy now encourages smarter women to pursue careers rather than have kids. Governments doubles down by subsidizing less bright women to have kids. Much improved health case means the load of genetic mutations is building up. Average IQ of whites in the West is now dropping at about half an IQ point per decade.

Another factor is that the smarter people in our society are being systematically sidelined and discouraged by progressive social polices, especially diversity and affirmative action. Reward for merit has gone, reward for achievement is melting away if you have the wrong sex or skin color. So why bother? Ignored and mistreated by an increasingly hostile society, the technically gifted white males who lifted the world out of Malthusian existence in the industrial revolution are increasingly overlooked and withdrawing. Will the last to leave please turn out the lights?