Technologische verbeteringen verlopen vaak geleidelijk

CAMBRIDGE – Niets is beter dan wazig taalgebruik als je herrie wilt schoppen – of juist consensus wilt bereiken. Ludwig Wittgenstein heeft betoogd dat filosofische problemen alleen maar een gevolg waren van het misbruik van de taal. De kunst van de diplomatie is daarentegen het vinden van woorden die onenigheid kunnen verhullen.

Eén idee waarover economen het bijna unaniem eens zijn, is dat – afgezien van minerale rijkdom – het grootste deel van het enorme inkomstenverschil tussen rijke en arme landen niet zozeer kan worden toegeschreven aan kapitaal of onderwijs, maar aan 'technologie.' Dus wat is technologie?

Het antwoord verklaart de ongebruikelijke consensus onder economen, want 'technologie' wordt gemeten als een soort 'rest'-categorie, een residu – Nobelprijswinnaar Robert Solow heeft het de 'totale factor productiviteit' genoemd –, dat wat overblijft na de verrekening van andere productiefactoren, zoals fysiek en menselijk kapitaal. Zoals Moses Abramovitz in 1956 spitsvondig opmerkte, is dit residu niet veel meer dan “een graadmeter van onze onwetendheid.”

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