Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Next New Thing in Economics

I come from the technology world, which regularly reinvents itself. 30 years ago, the personal computer dominated the industry. 20 years ago, it was the internet. Ten years ago, the iPhone was announced, which would ultimately become the world's first trillion-dollar product. Today the tech world has moved on—to machine learning, virtual reality, and drones.

I wonder if the same is true in economics. Does the world economy change so dramatically as to change the focus of the field of economics, or is it all just different incarnations of Adam Smith's pin factory? Or could it be that our understanding of forces that have existed forever is what's changing? 

Ten years ago behavioral economics was coming into vogue. But this was clearly a case where it was our understanding of economic behavior that was changing, not the behavior (or the force driving it) itself.

Topics in economics that seem newly relevant today include negative interest rates and universal basic income (or negative income tax). Maybe, like artificial intelligence, these are simply modern applications of ideas that have been around for decades.

Perhaps the biggest change in economics will be a shift from scarcity to abundance. After all, economics is the study of how scarce resources are allocated. What happens when there's more than enough of everything to satisfy demand (at P=0)?

So, what's the next new thing in economics?

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