In his column Monday, the New York Times' Paul Krugman wondered why the technological innovation that has given us "iPhones and iPads and iDontKnows" hasn't been accompanied by sustained economic growth, and suggested that the reason is that we've trained ourselves to believe our own hype.
He admitted that he doesn't exactly know why "the whole digital era, spanning more than four decades, is looking like a disappointment" in economic terms, but noted a few possible reasons, including the fact that technology that allows for streaming video "doesn't get counted in the G.D.P.," or that the "big productivity gains of the period from 1995 to 2005 came largely in things like inventory control."
Or it may just be, he wrote, that "new technologies are more fun than fundamental."
What I’m pretty sure about, however, is that we ought to scale back the hype.
You see, writing and talking breathlessly about how technology changes everything might seem harmless, but, in practice, it acts as a distraction from more mundane issues -- and an excuse for handling those issues badly. If you go back to the 1930s, you find many influential people saying the same kinds of things such people say nowadays: This isn’t really about the business cycle, never mind debates about macroeconomic policy; it’s about radical technological change and a work force that lacks the skills to deal with the new era.
And then, thanks to World War II, we finally got the demand boost we needed, and all those supposedly unqualified workers — not to mention Rosie the Riveter -- turned out to be quite useful in the modern economy, if given a chance.
Of course, there I go, invoking history. Don’t I understand that everything is different now? Well, I understand why people like to say that. But that doesn’t make it true.