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June 22, 2009

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Hi Tim,

I think one of the big unanswered questions is the following:

"Differences in measured inputs explain less than half of the enormous cross country differences in per capita GDP."

The rest presumably comes from technological and social/economic innovations combined with denser networks of economic agents - but we don't really know how to bring those factors into being - especially the networks. We have hints (technology, globalization), but they are only hints. Hence Easterly's point about confusing correlation with causation.

In any case, I look forward to the whole paper!

Fabulous post. My favorite comparison is between William Graham Sumner in 1883,


“Some men have been found to denounce and deride the modern system—what they call the capitalist system. The modern system is based on liberty, on contract, and on private property.”

and Elhanan Helpman's 2004 summary of what we do know in development economics at the end of "The Mystery of Economic Growth,"

"Although it has been established that property rights institutions, the rule of law, and constraints on the executive are important for growth, the exact ways in which they affect income per capita are not well understood."

From Adam Smith (remember the title, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,") to Sumner we had a pretty good idea of the basics of growth, and then we forgot about them for a century while the anti-capitalists took over academia.

Will we ever have a formal model that will perfectly "explain" growth; no, of course not. Do we know pretty much what it takes for economies to grow? Yes, and we've known more or less what it is for a very long time. Cowperthwaite of Hong Kong applied Adam Smith 101 deliberately in order to grow Hong Kong, and was spectacularly successful. Yes, there are lots and lots and lots of things that we don't know exactly how to do, but we know far more at a much higher level of certainty than one might guess from most of the talk about alleviating poverty.

what a great article, let me just add that well, human capital and ideas are tightly linked in production and use.
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Tim: As I wrote on my blog, Truth on the Market, I think Tyler is pretty far off base with this one. See http://www.truthonthemarket.com/2009/04/28/what-does-tyler-know-about-law-and-economics-anyway/

"The Elusive Quest for Growth" is a case in point, but I think that kind of soundbite epitomizes the policy conversation. Growth is described ad nauseum as a "mystery" in reverent tones. And, not to make a pun, it really makes me sick.

what a great article, let me just add that well, human capital and ideas are tightly linked in production and use.
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I think one of the big unanswered questions is the following:

"Differences in measured inputs explain less than half of the enormous cross country differences in per capita GDP."

what a great article, let me just add that well, human capital and ideas are tightly linked in production and use.
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what a great article, let me just add that well, human capital and ideas are tightly linked in production and use.

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