It’s Friday in the summertime, so I thought I would do something a little light and easy today.
I was reading an article by a St. Louis Federal Reserve economist titled ‘What Drives Long-Run Economic Growth?‘
I’ve been writing about short-term economic issues like the impact of the cold weather on the first quarter and when the Fed might raise interest rates (June, September or January?), so the long-run idea was appealing.
The author, YiLi Chien, says that both theoretically and empirically, it’s been shown that technological progress is the main driver of long run growth.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing that I think of is driverless cars and using my iPhone to pay for a sandwich at Subway without reaching for my credit card.
While those things are cool and may drive economic growth, I was reminded of an article I saw in the Atlantic a few years ago. It’s a list of the 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel.
Every single item on the list really was a breakthrough that changed lives.
Here’s their Top 10:
- The printing press, 1430s
- Electricity, late 19th century
- Penicillin, 1928
- Semiconductor electronics, mid-20th century
- Optical lenses, 13th century
- Paper, second century
- internal combustion engine, late 19th century
- Vaccination, 1796
- The internet, 1960s
- The steam engine, 1712
Of course, we could debate about whether the steam engine is really ‘greater’ than sanitation systems (no. 12), refrigeration (No. 13) or my personal favorite: air conditioning (no. 44).
Take a look at the list and see how your favorite innovations rank. I look at this list and, as an optimist, think the future is bright and long-run growth will come back (eventually) based on the inventions that haven’t happened yet.