Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mr. Bad Example

RJ Gordon has written a "new" paper. It's basically The Great Stagnation (with no cite) without the happy bits.

In it, he gives, and Paul Krugman repeats, a very weird example:

A thought experiment helps to illustrate the fundamental importance of the inventions of IR #2 compared to the subset of IR #3 inventions that have occurred since 2002. You are required to make a choice between option A and option B. With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002. Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?

There you have it people. Case closed. We are all doomed because....we have already solved the fundamental problems facing humanity (at least for the top 80% of people in developed countries)??

Really? That's supposed to make me feel bad about the current era? I get the meat & potatoes and the carmel frappacino too?


Just turn this around and you can see how dumb it is. Suppose we had the internet of today but no running water. How long do you think it would take to invent it? An hour? A day? Then we'd get its implementation funded on kickstarter in no time flat.

Our only real snags would be the decades of environmental studies required by the government and the protests of the United Brotherhood of Night Soil Workers.

What Gordon's paper does for me is remind me that we in the rich world should (yes, I said should) be more focussed than we are on our fellow humans who still live without "the great inventions".


Anonymous said...

Can't I use a chamber pot?

Gerardo said...

In which world would I have access to virginity cream?

Norman said...

Have you seen the new Hans Rosling video about the Washing Machine? It makes essentially the same point.

kebko said...

Apparently, in India, they are choosing option B.

Eric said...

A-flippin'-men, Angus. A-flippin'-men.

Frank said...


MikeMcK said...

Used to live in Fairbank, AK - lot of people choose option B. Using an outhouse isn't that bad, it really isn't. Even in neg 40. You get used to it. Hauling water too. I'd go back to haul water over losing current tech in a heartbeat.