Christian Long

Alex Tabarrok: How Ideas Trump Crises

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Reflection by KATIE R.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Alex Tabarrok:  How Ideas Trump Crises

Alex relates his optimism to the world that we see today.

He tells how many of the struggles that our world as had, such as the Great Depression, World War 1, and World War 2, and how they have affected our world. The world had to basically start all over again from the beginning to reclaim itself. As he took the quote from Thomas Jefferson, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine, and he who lights his candle at mine, receives light without darkening me.” If we have great ideas then we can share these ideas with others without fear of making our contributions seem any less….our light candle does not get extinguished in the lighting of the other. In the past, our ideas were kept isolated by natural and political forces. There were no fast channels in which to pass information throughout the world. At first technology kept nations isolated and then political barriers restricted the flow of cooperation between bright minds in all nations. The changing political scene, with the fall of the USSR, the industrialization of China, and the fall of the “walls” throughout the world, there is a truly global unification of nations. And with the Internet, we have the possibility of global and scientific exchanges that allow information on new breaking research to be spread at almost neck-breaking speed thought the world.

Alex said that he also sees the world as a giant computer processor with sections that are not in operation.

It keeps changing over time, and almost nothing interrupts its flow. He proves this when he demonstrated how either population or poverty has increased or decreased over time. He, again, equates the increase in new ideas with the rise of the economic fates in once poverty ridden nations. As the productivity of a nation grows, such as is China, India and Africa, the opportunities for education and higher learning grow at a proportionate rate. The newly “educated” population can then introduce new ideas into the global discovery mix. As he states, the USA should not fear the progressive wealth of other countries because it can only further the overall good of society. As with a giant microchip, all parts must work in unison for the good of the entire network. He predicts that the world will see innovators and scientists, such as Albert Einstein, coming form a previously poverty ridden country such as Africa.

It is amazing to think that our world can change so quickly.

As Alex stated in the video, all this change has basically taken place in the last part of the twentieth century. As early as the great depression, most nations depended mostly on their own country’s production to survive. The depression took most economist by surprise and even those who were the most optimistic could not have predicted the tremendous economic growth the world has seen. Alex make the point that we need the global marketplace to expand our research and development. The greater the target consumer market the more money is spent on creating new products, including medicines, software, movies, since the overall outcome is to sell to the larger market. There is little interest in coming up with a product if there is little perceived interest or return on capital since research and development can absorb a substantial portion of a company’s resources.

He even posed the question in the form of, “Would you choose between a rare or a common disease?”

His point is that the incentive is to produce drugs for a larger market so that we would all want to have the common disease in order to have a greater chance of having cure in our life time.

Alex’s main theme is ” One idea, one world, one market”. By globalizing our ideas, we promote and drive growth in all nations. This has a domino effect is that the wealth of all nations will increase due to the increased growth, which in turn, promotes higher education and therefore more brilliant minds. These newly educated pool of minds will come up with more great ideas and the cycle will begin again and again.

While I agree with Alex’s vision, he is too optimistic.

While he does state that even the great depression did not stop the recovery that took place, at that time we were not in the global market place we are even now. More and more, all nations are becoming interdependent. I hear in the news that the economic stability of other nations due affect the economic stability of our nation. And yes, sometimes we need the problems to push us out of complacency and seek new ideas.

But, it seems that the new ideas needed are to make sure that we keep our economy healthy in spite of our dependency on other nations whether that be dependency on oil, trade etc. We can’t see into the future but perhaps the “globalization” of the marketplace can have some downsides.


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