The robot economy and the new rentier class | FT Alphaville
Harvard’s Ken Rogoff recently debated this point of view with both Thiel and Gordon, but seemed to arrive at a different conclusion. As his op-ed set out last week:
There are certainly those who believe that the wellsprings of science are running dry, and that, when one looks closely, the latest gadgets and ideas driving global commerce are essentially derivative. But the vast majority of my scientist colleagues at top universities seem awfully excited about their projects in nanotechnology, neuroscience, and energy, among other cutting-edge fields. They think they are changing the world at a pace as rapid as we have ever seen. Frankly, when I think of stagnating innovation as an economist, I worry about how overweening monopolies stifle ideas, and how recent changes extending the validity of patents have exacerbated this problem.
We feel this is a hugely important point. For what Rogoff is saying is that if we are experiencing technology stagnation, it’s not because humanity has suddenly become less innovative. Rather, it’s because incumbent interests now have the biggest incentive ever to impose artificial scarcity, which is stopping the speed of innovation.
Our own personal view is that this is because we’ve now arrived at a point where technology begins to threaten return on capital, mostly by causing the sort of abundance that depresses prices to the point where many goods have no choice but to become free. This is related to the amount of “free working” hours now being pumped into the economy — the result of crowd sourcing and rising productivity levels — thanks, in part, to the sort of gadgets that allow everyone to work anywhere and anytime, in a work environment that’s generally speeding up as everyone tries to keep up with the competition by doing yet more hours voluntarily.
Patent wars, meanwhile… and the rise of companies whose entire raison d’etre is focused on protecting patents… is the ultimate counter force. As a recent Fed paper spelled out, there is real evidence to suggest that idea monopolisation has become a hugely counter-productive force in the economy.