What’s happening?

Hal Varian is Google’s chief economist, and he’s said something that sounds most amazingly clueless:

“If you look at the history of the world, up until 1700 nothing much happened.” — Flash interview: Hal Varian

Well, you know, there was the fall of man, and the resurrection of Jesus, and a few relatively trivial cultural events. But it is true per capita GDP was essentially nil.

Maybe it’s less bad in context, or he misspoke or got distracted and answered at random or something. Anyway, the quote I really like is about something else the Great Goog-econ said:

“‘What rich people have now,’ Varian says, ‘middle class people will have in twenty years.’ What’s he talking about? Private jets? Ranches in Montana? Income growth?” — Nothing much happened

It would be more interesting if the political and economic leaders in 2031 had what middle class people have today.


3 Replies to “What’s happening?”

  1. I think it’s out of context (it looks like a chunk taken out of a longer section about economics) but it’s still pretty silly.

    Even if we focus on JUST the GPD, a hunter-gatherer that hasn’t managed to make tools yet has a near-zero PCGDP.
    Tribes that have figured out how to have folks specialize will have higher– this gal does baskets, that one makes food, this guy hunts small animals, those four hunt big ones.
    The tribes that figure out how to trade with neighbors will have more– you trade because it’s easier to make fifteen baskets and get those nifty obsidian heads than to go out on a long trip to try to find a place with obsidian, etc.
    You get up to the point of having “towns” and “farms” and it’s even bigger.

    Imagine how much value was gained by BUILDING AQUEDUCTS.


      1. Not to mention “The children don’t starve to death (or get left on a cliff) if they’re born at the wrong time of year” is rather a large PCGDP.

        As folks have pointed out– “kindness” is expensive. So’s mercy.

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