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History, walls, economics

September 1, 2016

Gustave_Caillebotte-Floor-scrapers_(1876)Economists lecture on goods, and are fond of that abstract good, the widget. But man does not live by widgets at all. We live by food and shelter, live longer with sanitation systems and vaccines, we want to get around easily and to see what is interesting, and nary a widget is there. When economists go to explain trends, they too often focus on widgets, and too little on what actually matters. So it is refreshing to see that Robert Gordon pays attention to what matters in his book (Amazon) on American economic growth.

Drywall — or what we always called sheet rock — is one of the representative inventions of Gordon’s golden century. Its value lays not only in being less expensive, but also in that it can be hung with less labor than required to build other walling, and with less skilled labor. If not always with legal labor.

But… what happens when houses are made with 3D printers that tool both the interior and exterior walling as they are laid? That future doesn’t even require AI. My intuition — pace Gordon — is that we are on the verge of an automation and AI revolution that will make the ones past look like the stone age.

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