Lab-Grown Meat is Coming

Just four years ago, a pound of lab-grown beef cost $325,000 to produce. Now, researchers have got the cost down to about $11. If progress continues, lab-grown meat might be commercially viable in less than five years.

Mark Post, whose stem cell burger created an international sensation in 2013, recently announced that his company, Mosa Meat, would be selling lab-grown beef in four to five years.

Memphis Meats is developing a way to produce meat directly from animal cells without the need to feed, breed or slaughter actual animals.

In theory, the stem cells could provide a lot of meat. Assuming unlimited nutrients and room to grow, a single satellite cell can undergo 75 generations of division during three months. That means one turkey cell could turn into enough muscle to manufacture over 20 trillion turkey nuggets.

Some animal lovers are welcoming lab-grown meat because it means that cows and pigs will no longer be slaughtered. It also means, however, that nobody will any longer have an incentive to raise them. The population of farm animals would undergo a complete collapse. The future of domesticated livestock might be the zoo, and those zoos might offer the only opportunity to save those animals from complete extinction.

By the way, the invention of lab-grown meat was foreseen some 85 years ago by none other than Sir Winston Churchill, who was ridiculed for his prediction. Churchill was just a little too optimistic about the time line, however, as he thought lab-grown meat would be viable by the 1980s.

Settled Science Update: The Origins of Civilization

For many decades, scholars believed that the invention of agriculture gave rise to civilization and also to organized religion. Agriculture meant that people no longer needed to remain on the move, searching for food. People for the first time could stay in one place and build permanent settlements and structures. As the settled population grew, religion developed as a way of establishing a social hierarchy and maintaining social order. The sequence of events can be summarized as follows:

Agriculture => Settlement => Civilization => Religion.

This sequence of events was very widely accepted by scholars–settled science, so to speak. But in just the last 20 years, a single archeological site in Turkey has turned the conventional wisdom on its head.

[D]ozens of massive stone pillars arranged into a set of rings, one mashed up against the next. Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple.

The amazing thing about Göbekli Tepe is that it is an example of monumental architecture built by people who were literally stone age; they had no wheels or metal tools. Moreover, they were foragers. Agriculture had not yet been invented. For foragers to build monumental architecture is something no one even imagined possible.

Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife. “I, my colleagues, we all thought, What? How?” Schmidt said. Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. The accomplishment was astonishing, but it was hard to understand how it had been done or what it meant. “In 10 or 15 years,” Schmidt predicts, “Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason.”

Given that the site appears to have served a religious purpose, the story of civilization would seem to start with religion. Accommodating this new evidence now seems to require reversing the historical sequence of events to put religion at the beginning and agriculture near the end. A common religion would have helped to foster settlement by increasing trust and cooperation among people.

Religion => Settlement => Agriculture => Civilization

That’s an amazing reorientation of our understanding of human history.

And the broader lesson is that science is never ‘settled.’

Raisin Hell at the Supreme Court

The recent Supreme Court session brought arrogant and lawless decisions on Obamacare and ‘gay marriage’, but amongst those dark clouds a small ray of sunshine broke through. In a victory for property rights, farmer Marvin Horne won his case against the mighty Raisin Administrative Committee.

Chief Justice Roberts said the “reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Committee is a clear physical taking. Actual raisins are transferred from the growers to the government.”

The 5th Amendment requires the government to pay “just compensation” if it seizes someone’s land for public use, and the same principle applies to raisins, he said.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed.

The ruling means the Hornes do not have to pay the large fines imposed by the USDA.

“The Hornes should simply be relieved of the obligation to pay the fine and associated civil penalty they were assessed when they resisted the government’s effort to take their raisins,” Roberts said.

[…]

The ruling deals a blow to the last of the New Deal-era farm programs that authorize growers to join together to prop up the market prices for their products. The raisin board had the support of most growers, and its “marketing orders” had the backing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These days, we have to take victories for liberty wherever we can find them.

We wrote previously about the mighty Raisin Administrative Committee here.

The Committee spent decades distorting markets and undermining economic freedom. But they did sponsor claymation raisins, so there’s that.

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Update II on the mighty Raisin Administrative Committee

The mighty Raisin Administrative Committee, one of those quintessentially governmental institutions that are at the same time both ridiculous and sinister, is going to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case tomorrow, Horne v. U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, to decide whether this Committee may constitutionally confiscate–without compensation–raisins grown in excess of a quota established by the Committee. The case is being brought (finally) by brave raisin farmers Marvin and Laura Horne, who were ordered by the Committee to hand over about 300 tons (approximately 30% of their crop) of raisins that the government decided were excessive. The Committee is a vestige of the New Deal era, which in its wisdom, too often attempted to control agricultural prices by controlling supply.

The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial today, notes that at stake in the case is the important principle that government should not be able to seize, without compensation, private property solely for the purpose of manipulating a market.

This is rewriting the Fifth Amendment. Under the Ninth Circuit’s logic, why couldn’t the government demand that an auto company hand over 20% of the cars off its production line to give to the poor or sell overseas? How about pharmaceuticals or iPhones to maintain stable prices or serve another regulatory purpose?

The Washington Post describes the workings of the program as follows.

In a given year, the government may decide that farmers are growing more raisins than Americans will want to eat. That would cause supply to outstrip demand. Raisin prices would drop. And raisin farmers might go out of business.

To prevent that, the government does something drastic. It takes away a percentage of every farmer’s raisins. Often, without paying for them.

These seized raisins are put into a government-controlled “reserve” and kept off U.S. markets. In theory, that lowers the available supply of raisins and thereby increases the price for farmers’ raisin crops. Or, at least, the part of their crops that the government didn’t just take.

So when it comes to raisins, the government has explicitly outlawed the price mechanism. If extended to most other goods and services the result would be…the Soviet Union. Or North Korea. But since it’s only raisins, not one of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, the economic losses are limited, and pass relatively unnoticed.

What does the Committee do with those reserved raisins?

The committee is allowed to sell off some of those reserve raisins that it took for free. It can use those proceeds to pay its own expenses and to promote raisins overseas.

And if there’s any money left over, it goes back to the farmers whose raisins were taken.

How much did they raise, and how much did the Committee return to farmers?

“We generated $65,483,211. And we pretty well spent it all,” said Gary Schulz, the committee’s president and general manager, reviewing the books for one recent year. That year, the committee spent those millions on storage fees. Overseas promotions. Administrative overhead.

So what, precisely, was left for the farmers?

“Zero,” said Schulz.

Haha. Figures.

Don’t be fooled, however. This seizure without compensation might at first appear to harm farmers. But the most likely effect of the policy has been to increase farm income, at least at the time the policy was initiated in 1949, if not today. The opportunity to increase farm income was almost certainly the reason the program was created in the first place. By decreasing supply, the raisin seizures induce a higher price, and if demand is inelastic, the revenue effect of the higher price more than offsets the farmers’ loss of sales volume.

Consider also that, as mentioned in the article, raisin seizures in recent years have approached 50 percent of the total crop. If demand really is inelastic, then in this case, price must increase by at least a factor of two. That’s right; government intervention potentially causes consumers to pay twice as much or more for raisins. So that carton of Sunmaid raisins that you see in the supermarket for $4 should really cost not much more than $2, but the government props up the price. Just one more little blessing of the federal government for which we can all be thankful.

Meanwhile, farmer Marvin Horne, 68, has resisted the policy for each of the last 11 years, refusing to turn over his raisins to the authorities.

[G]et Horne talking about the national raisin reserve, and the spirit stirs. Suddenly he can’t find a metaphor hairy enough to express his contempt. It’s robbery. It’s socialism. It’s communism. It’s feudalism. It’s . . .

“You have heard of the rape of the Sabine women? This is even worse,” Horne said, referencing a legendary mass abduction from Roman mythology. “The rape of the raisin growers.”

God bless this guy. And bonus points for the learned allusion to classical mythology.

The Rape (Abduction) of the Sabines. An appropriate analogy for raisin policy?

Meanwhile, Horne’s case was recently brought before the Supreme Court, where Justice Breyer expressed astonishment at the policy.

“What it does is it takes raisins that we grow — in effect, throws them in the river,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, puzzling it out. Later, he said, “I can’t believe that Congress wanted the taxpayers to pay for a program that’s going to mean they have to pay higher prices” for raisins.

He can’t believe that Congress would make consumers pay higher prices? LOLZ, that right there is some pretty touching naivete by Justice Breyer. Hard to believe this guy has lived for decades in Washington, DC, and in fact started his career as an aide to one of the leading Congressional operators of his generation, Teddy Kennedy. Justice Breyer must indeed lead a charming life.

Finally, and maddeningly, the article points out that the Department of Agriculture has the power to terminate the policy at any time. Hence, every president since Truman could have stopped this madness with a simple phone call to USDA, but none did. Nice job!

But on the other hand, if the program had been terminated, we might never have had the one positive thing that the program ever delivered to the public–The California Raisins–claymation figures who attained fame in the late 1980s by singing Motown favorites. Yes, the California Raisins were an advertising campaign paid for by the Raisin Administrative Committee. Take it away…

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Governor Brown is the Biggest Water Waster in California (Updated)

California is now suffering its fourth straight year of drought, and as a result, Governor Jerry Brown is taking ‘unprecedented’ action to ration water.

Mr. Brown, in an executive order, directed the State Water Resources Control Board to impose a 25 percent reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies, which serve 90 percent of California residents, over the coming year. The agencies will be responsible for coming up with restrictions to cut back on water use and for monitoring compliance. State officials said the order would impose varying degrees of cutbacks on water use across the board — affecting homeowners, farms and other businesses, as well as the maintenance of cemeteries and golf courses.

While the specifics of how this will be accomplished are being left to the water agencies, it is certain that Californians across the state will have to cut back on watering gardens and lawns — which soak up a vast amount of the water this state uses every day — as well as washing cars and even taking showers.

The policy, of course, is imposed upon people by force. Non-compliance means fines, and failure to pay fines means the government will send armed men authorized to initiate violence.

Mark W. Cowin, the director of the California Department of Water Resources, said the state would tightly monitor compliance, in the hope that would be enough to accomplish the 25 percent reduction. If it is not, the order authorizes water suppliers to penalize offenders.

“We are looking for success, not to be punitive,” Mr. Cowin said. “In the end, if people and communities don’t comply, there will be repercussions, including fines.”

This policy is undertaken in the name of reducing waste of scarce water. But as usual, the truth is the opposite of what the government proclaims. To the extent that anybody wastes precious water in California, it is due entirely to the government’s own policy of keeping the price of water too low to clear the market.

One estimate found that consumers paid only 0.5 cents per gallon. At that rate, running a modern dishwasher every night for a whole month costs about a dollar. A standard 8-minute shower costs 10 cents. At those prices, people will overuse water because the price does not reflect the true cost. The government practically gives water away, then is appalled to find people ‘wasting’ water.

If the price were allowed to rise to the market clearing level, people would respond voluntarily to the higher price by economizing on water use, and there would be no need whatsoever for government to impose punitive rationing.

Rationing by price no only eliminates the need for coercion but eliminates waste since people would be paying for what they use, and therefore using only what they pay for.

Government rationing, in contrast, creates waste because the government’s definition of waste is arbitrary and political. Government defines ‘waste’ as car washing and lawn watering, because those are the uses that the ‘water police’ can observe. The problem is that one man’s waste is another man’s passion. For people who love a green lawn, that lawn can be very valuable indeed. In fact, it can be more valuable than what the government thinks has value.

In particular, the governor’s policy has no impact on big agriculture, even though in California most of the waste of water occurs in agriculture. The government, however, focuses on lawns.

So for example, suppose that the market would price a certain volume of water at $30, which is its true cost. The government, however, sells water to farmers at $15, which is below cost. If an almond grower can use that $15 of water to produce $20 worth of almonds, he’ll go ahead and use the water because he comes out ahead on that deal.

Meanwhile, some homeowner who loves his lawn is willing to pay $40 to keep his lawn green. But the government says, no, you can’t do that, a lawn is ‘wasteful.’ The almonds, according to the government, are not wasteful. That’s ‘productive economic activity and the backbone of California’s economy’ or some such.

The government has chosen $20 worth of almonds over $40 worth of lawn. This is a waste because the water is used for an activity that has lower value.

The market, in contrast, would produce the efficient outcome, because at a price of $30 the homeowner would buy the water but the farmer wouldn’t.

Some other homeowners, at the $30 price, might decide that keeping their lawns green isn’t worth it, so they’ll voluntarily stop watering. That’s their choice. Other people might decide instead to take quicker showers or not wash the car. Again, the choice is theirs. The advantage of rationing by price is that people can cut back on uses of water that offer them the least value, while retaining the uses that give them the most value.

The government, in contrast, rations by imposing an arbitrary ‘one size fits all’ choice on every household. As Gov. Brown put it, “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

Governor Brown doesn’t really know, however, how much your lawn is worth, or whether it’s worth more than the almonds. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t care. In California, the single biggest individual waster of water is Governor Brown.

Update.

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Milking the Taxpayers

From the Economist:

THE father of Major Major, a character in Catch 22, a novel by Joseph Heller, makes a good living not growing alfalfa. “The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce.” Each day, Mr Major “sprang out of bed at the crack of noon… just to make certain that the chores would not be done.”

To this day, to be treated as a farmer in America doesn’t necessarily require you to grow any crops. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2007 and 2011 Uncle Sam paid some $3m in subsidies to 2,300 farms where no crop of any sort was grown. Between 2008 and 2012, $10.6m was paid to farmers who had been dead for over a year. Such payments explain why Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, is promoting a rule to attempt to crack down on payments to non-farming folk. But with crop prices now falling, taxpayers are braced to be fleeced again.

American farm subsidies are egregiously expensive, harvesting $20 billion a year from taxpayers’ pockets. Most of the money goes to big, rich farmers producing staple commodities such as corn and soyabeans in states such as Iowa.

Few politicians are inclined to vote against farm subsidies: though farmers make up only a small number of voters, even in agricultural states, they are loud and organized enough to punish lawmakers who vote against a farm bill. Opposition to spending is muted; few voters realize how much of their money is given to farmers and even fewer would change their vote because of it.

The article smartly incorporates a passage from a book that could easily be included as one of the required texts for our class.  We would be hard pressed to suggest something better as a layman’s introduction to Public Choice. As for the issue of farm subsidies: it is well known that many farms are owned by large agribusinesses, as well as by doctors, lawyers, and rock and roll stars as a tax write off.

Food Stamps as Corporate Welfare

Time magazine reports that producers of sugary drinks use the food stamp program to subsidize purchases of their unhealthy products.

So what exactly can SNAP [food stamp] recipients buy with their benefits? There are a few restrictions, against alcohol, and tobacco for instance. But curiously, most junk food is fair game, calling into question whether the “nutrition” in SNAP means much to lawmakers at all. Here are just a few of the items one can buy:

  •  Red Bull
  • Sugary Soda
  • Candy
  • Mixes for alcoholic beverages
  • Artificial sweetener

Of course, big agribusiness is complicit in the structure of the food stamp program. Simon gives the example of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to bar food-stamp recipients from buying sugary soft drinks with SNAP dollars. Big companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola fought back against the measure, which was ultimately vetoed by the Department of Agriculture, saying that the measure would be unworkable.

But take a look at the current restrictions the Agriculture Department places on food stamp use, and it’s difficult to understand why proscribing junk food purchases would be all that difficult. The list of items that one can’t buy with food stamps but that are also commonly found in supermarkets is extensive, including the aforementioned alcohol, but also pet food, ornamental gourds, and prepared foods. Why would barring junk food be functionally different than barring alcohol?

Why doesn’t Time believe the Dept. of Agriculture when they say that restrictions on junk food are unworkable? The federal government wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

In any event, the issue is a serious one because the structure of the food stamp program is apparently contributing to the obesity epidemic, which poses a dire threat to public health. Some enterprising reporter might want to ask the golfer-in-chief about it sometime.

Google Celebrates Junk Science

Google today devoted its daily ‘doodle’ to honoring the 107th anniversary of the birth of author Rachel Carson.

Rachel CarsonRachel Carson is remembered for her 1962 book, Silent Spring, an infamous work of environmental scaremongering and junk science. Carson’s book argued that pesticides, particularly DDT, were having devastating effects on the health of living things that we care about, particularly humans and birds. Hence, she effectively asked us to imagine a world without bird songs: the silent spring.

Carson’s thesis, however, is utterly contradicted by the facts of reality. The fact is that pesticides are extremely beneficial to humanity, and on balance are even good for the environment. Pesticides lower the cost and raise the quality of produce, thus improving human nutrition and health. And the use of pesticides means that farmers don’t need to use as much land, thus leaving more land set aside for forests and wildlife. Partly as a result of the use of pesticides, the total forested area of the United States has been increasing by about one million acres per year. Pesticides have also served to eradicate deadly diseases such as typhus and malaria.

Carson’s hysterical book caused governments around the world to ban DDT, thus impeding the fight against malaria, even though decades of research have established that DDT causes no harm to humans. While deadly to mosquitoes, DDT in the human body gets metabolized in a way that makes it relatively harmless.

DDTOK ‘viridiana’. Here goes.

That was 1947. Want something more recent?

Somehow we suspect that ‘viridiana’, even after watching, would still find a way to move the goalpost and remain unconvinced, as would other modern environmentalists, much like the ignorant African tribesmen.

That DDT was safe to use was known to the EPA, but they went ahead and banned it anyway.

On June 14, 1972…the EPA banned DDT despite considerable evidence of its safety offered in seven months of agency hearings. After listening to that testimony, the EPA’s own administrative law judge declared, “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man…DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man…The use of DDT under the regulations involved here [does] not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”

There was also no evidence that DDT was harmful at the time Carson published her book. She chose therefore to variously ignore and misrepresent the available science. Her misrepresentations were manifold, but just to get a taste, consider her claims regarding the effects of DDT on robins. Carson claimed that DDT spraying was driving the robin to the “verge of extinction.” And yet,

In that very same year, 1962, the leading ornithologist in North America also mentioned the status of the robin. That authority was Roger Tory Peterson, who asked in his Life magazine Nature library book, The Birds, “What is North America’s number one bird?” He then pointed out that it was the robin! The Audubon Christmas Bird Count in 1941 (before DDT) was 19,616 robins (only 8.41 seen per observer)—see Table 1. Compare that with the 1960 count of 928,639 robins (or 104.01 per observer). The total was 12 times more robins seen per observer after all those years of DDT and other “modern pesticide” usage. Carson had to avoid all references to such surveys or her thesis would have been disproved by the evidence…

In many feeding experiments birds, including robins, were forced to ingest great quantities of DDT (and its breakdown product, DDE)…Researcher Joseph Hickey at the University of Wisconsin had testified before the Environmental Protection Agency hearings on DDT specifically that he could not kill any robins by overdosing them with DDT because the birds simply passed it through their digestive tract and eliminated it in their feces. Many other feeding experiments by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various university researchers repeatedly showed that DDT and DDE in the diet could not have killed wild birds under field conditions. If Carson had mentioned these pertinent details it would have devastated her major theme, which continued to be the awful threats posed by DDT to all nonhuman creatures on the face of the Earth. Instead of providing the facts that would clarify such conditions, she spent several more pages on unfounded allegations about DDT and various kinds of birds.

DDT was not only not harmful to humans, it had saved hundreds of millions of human lives. Three years after Carson’s book, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that

“in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.” WHO issued a statement in 1969: “DDT has been the main agent in eradicating malaria … and [has] saved at least 2 billion people in the world without causing the loss of a single life by poisoning from DDT alone.” It went on to state, “It is so safe that no symptoms have been observed among the spraymen or among the inhabitants of the spray areas which numbered 130,000 and 535 million (respectively) at the peak of the campaign.”

Despite these facts, the EPA and other authorities around the world banned DDT and discourage its use in developing nations. This was done in part due to the hysteria incited by Rachel Carson. The result was millions of deaths from malaria that could have been prevented by DDT.

[I]gnoring his own agency’s ruling and advice, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus single-handedly outlawed almost all use of DDT. He made the unscientific assertion that it poses “unacceptable risk to the environment and potential harm to human health.” He had not bothered to attend a single day of the seven-month hearing and, according to aides, had not read any transcripts. Critics quip that his decision shot him to the top of an infamous list: Hitler, 20.9 million deaths; Stalin, 61.9 million deaths; Mao Tse-Tung, 77 million deaths; Ruckelshaus, estimates range from 100 million to more than the competition combined.

If Ruckelshaus deserves a share of the blame for those 100 million or more deaths, because he acted rashly and ignored the available evidence, then also Rachel Carson deserves a share of the blame, and for the same reasons. The Google doodle depicts Carson amidst a diverse assortment of happy wildlife. More appropriately, Google should have shown her surrounded by dead African children.

What’s next for those tech geniuses at Google? A doodle to celebrate the birth anniversary of Trofim Lysenko?

 

 

Can we sustain economic growth with robots?

Robert Gordon is a well known economist at Northwestern University who is profoundly pessimistic about the ability of our economy to grow in the future. In fact, he believes that the growth that occurred during the hundred years from 1870 to 1970 was something of a historical accident that will be difficult or impossible to repeat. According to an interesting new article in New York magazine, Gordon

believes we can no longer expect to double our standard of living in one generation; it will now take at least two. The common expectations that your children will attend college even if you haven’t, in other words, or will have twice as rich a life, in this view no longer look realistic. Some of these hopes are already outdated: The generation of Americans now in their twenties is the first to not be significantly better educated than their parents. If Gordon is right, then for all but the wealthiest one percent of Americans, the rate of improvement in the standard of living—year over year, and generation after generation­—will be no faster than it was during the dark ages.

Wow, sounds awful. But why?

Electrical appliances allowed women of all social classes to leave behind housework for more fulfilling and productive jobs. Air-conditioning moved work indoors. The introduction of public sewers and sanitation reduced illness and infant mortality, improving health and extending lives. The car, mass media, and commercial aircraft led to a liberation from the narrow confines of geography and an introduction to a far broader and richer world. Education beyond high school was made accessible, in the aftermath of World War II, to the middle and working classes. These are all consequences of the second industrial revolution, and it is hard to imagine how those improvements might be extended: Women cannot be liberated from housework to join the labor force again, travel is not getting faster, cities are unlikely to get much more dense, and educational attainment has plateaued.

We’re not sure we find this argument convincing. Workforce participation, travel, urban density, and education did not improve substantially during the 1980s and 1990s, yet those two decades featured pretty good levels of growth. The cause was largely a revolution in computer technology, which has perhaps now run its course. But the future can perhaps exploit alternative sources of growth such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, and other sources we cannot yet imagine. Nobody in 1850 imagined the revolutionary effects of electrification that transformed the 20th century.

In support of Gordon, the article cites Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.

The classic example of the scale of these transformations is Paul Krugman’s description of his kitchen: The modern kitchen, absent a few surface improvements, is the same one that existed half a century ago. But go back half a century before that, and you are talking about no refrigeration, just huge blocks of ice in a box, and no gas-fired stove, just piles of wood. If you take this perspective, it is no wonder that the productivity gains have diminished since the early seventies.

Is this the sort of argument that Nobel Laureates nowadays find credible? That we can draw inferences about the next hundred years of economic growth by just looking around our kitchens? In any event, in our experience, our own kitchen is considerably different from the one our grandmother had in the 1950s. She had no automatic dishwasher, garbage disposal, coffeemaker, icemaker, microwave, or plastic wrap. Shopping for food in order to stock that kitchen was also a very different experience. In the 1950s, supermarkets were only just starting to become widespread, and they did not stock the same variety of foods; in particular, they did not sell ready-to-eat foods such as frozen dinners and microwave popcorn. Even more tragically, there was no access to craft beers.

But for the sake of argument, let’s concede to Krugman that kitchens have changed less in the last 50 years than in the previous 50. Why focus, however, on just the kitchen? How about the office? In a 1972 episode of the TV series Columbo, the late great Mel Ferrer plays a famous Hollywood writer. A scene shows him in his home office where Ferrer’s character does his work. His office has none of the following: computer, smartphone, cam, internet access, fax machine, scanner, copier, or printer. Just a landline telephone on the desk along with a mechanical typewriter. He keeps all his important records and information as hardcopies, stuffed into filing cabinets. Indeed, we can think of no significant aspect in which the office of the 1970s differs from that of the 1920s. (There were marginal improvements in the telephone, typewriter, and pen, and the ability to take dictation using a voice recorder.) Furthermore, we would argue that the typical kitchen has changed more in the last 50 years than the office did during the 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s. And Ferrer’s filing cabinet is a reminder that storage of information has perhaps progressed more since 1970 than it did during the 1000 years prior to 1970.

In short, we don’t see how Krugman’s kitchen analogy proves much, as some aspects of life will inevitably change more rapidly than others.

As a counterpoint to Gordon, the article quotes Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT.

After factories were electrified, Brynjolfsson explained, “the amazing thing is productivity didn’t increase in those factories for 30 years—30 years!” It sometimes take a while for humans to figure out how to use innovations, he said, and perhaps we are just now beginning to comprehend the full possibilities of computerization. In Brynjolfsson’s view, we are now in the beginnings of the new machine age, an extended moment of revolution in artificial intelligence. “A child’s PlayStation,” he said, is more powerful than a military super­computer from 1996; a chess program contained on a cell phone can defeat every grandmaster.

A.I. and robotics do seem to rank among the more promising sources of growth. Robots are already performing tasks that seemed impossible not long ago. For instance, Brynjolfsson cites “gardening” as a job that would be difficult for robots to do. But robots are already picking lettuce, and it’s also already possible to purchase a robot that will mow your lawn, so who knows?

Finally, returning to Robert Gordon in New York magazine, we have this bizarre passage.

[Gordon] kept talking about movies: The “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment when The Wizard of Oz switches from black and white to “the paradise of full color.” The great three-year public frenzy about who would play Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, maybe the first full incarnation of the modern celebrity machine, which ended when three studio executives arrived at a movie theater in the San Fernando Valley and replaced the ordinarily scheduled feature with the new print. “There was a pause, and the movie didn’t start. And then the public-address system came on and said, ‘The program—’ ” Gordon stopped. He was crying. “You see how choked up I get about this,” he said. He rubbed his eyes a bit and continued. “ ‘The program originally scheduled for tonight has been replaced with Gone With the Wind.’ And suddenly they’re going to be able to tell their children and their grandchildren. This stuff is just so powerful.”

Crying about the debut of Gone with the Wind? Well, Gordon this year turns 73 years of age. Perhaps he should consider testosterone replacement therapy.

Genetically Modified Food

Here is some very good news, especially for the world’s poor:

Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin

Of course, we can rely on some push-back from the crazies:

True to form, Greenpeace is already protesting that “the next ‘golden rice’ guinea pigs might be Filipino children.” The 4.4 million Filipino kids with vitamin A deficiency might not mind so much.