Saturday, 23 February 2008

The magic of accumulation

My last post ended without explaining why countries can keep growing and runners can keep running faster. Last time, the cliffhanger; today, the solution according to me.

In economics, it's the accumulation of capital and knowledge. Even if people do not do any more work now than they did ten years ago, people and companies have been investing some of their income during the time, so there are more machines and skills with which to work. That means more output.

In running, even if runners today are no more skilled than they were a decade ago, there has been investment in the science of running - finding more efficient running styles, for example, or better training techniques. These improvements should result in faster times, which they do.

I also expect a tendency for improvements in examination scores for students, for much the same reason. There is annual mourning in the UK over improvements in examination scores, with statements that children cannot be improving each year. Perhaps not each year, but an upward trend should be expected if educational scientists are doing their jobs.

The simultaneous call for a return to an earlier system of education as in the 1950s is flawed for the same reason. Sure, if people were taught according the earlier understanding of education, then their exam results may be comparable with the exam results in the 1950s. But it would throw away 50 years of learning in educational theory. I am not talking about student preferences or ideological or social changes in teaching practice here, but the hard theory of how people learn. People should be improving in intellectual ability by a certain percentage every year, and this may even accelerate if neuroscience and similar theories can bring more analysis to the mix.

While I am moaning, IQ and its usual applications don't exactly overwhelm me. The idea that someone has a fixed intelligence - and cannot overcome it - seems to be nihilistic and practically useless. For what it is worth, it even runs counter to the spirit of science which masters the world, not just describes it. And at least some of the work on IQ, when it has been applied to economics by non-economists, is very poor.

OK, this post started reasonably happily, and ended with a gripe. Here's some cheerier news: Tate and Lyle have decided to make all their sugar Fairtrade when it sold to the public. Probably there is a big PR element here, but still, thanks T&L.

No comments: