Re: Economists Optimistic Re Population

Robin Hanson (hanson@econ.Berkeley.EDU)
Tue, 23 Jun 1998 15:10:14 -0700

Alexander 'Sasha' Chislenko writes:"
>I wonder what they think of the economic environment for
>the period covered in their forecast. The economic utility
>of both humans and machines should very considerably
>change; any long-term economic scenario should take
>into account radically different organizational methods,
>cheap little robots with image recognition taking over
>much of current work, etc. If anybody was able to give
>quantitative assessments of such things, I would drop
>everything else I'm doing and go learn from them.
>Maybe, I should start from requesting that report...

The authors of the review are implicitly assuming that the
overall nature of population economics does not change
dramatically from it's nature over the last century or so.

If you think that great fundamental change is likely over
the next century, you don't want to take such forecasts
literally. But neither do you want to ignore what economists
have learned.

I think that the farther out you want to forecast, the more
you want to rely on basic economic theory, in contrast to more
empirical methods. You use current and past data to infer
what the fundamental processes are, and then then use your
best models of those fundamental processes to infer some
broad consequences of new technologies.

I'm not sure what you mean by "quantitative", but I am
confident that we do understand enough about fundamental
economic processes to say interesting things about the future.
The problem is that very few economists have the hubris to
think carefully about the question, and very few people with
the hubris and interest to think carefully about the future
(like those on this list) know much economics.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-2627