The diminishing returns of research

"Innovation" has become a political/economic panacea over the past few years. But an interesting paper suggests that research also obeys the laws of diminishing returns. Research productivity in the United States has declined spectacularly in the last few decades. A good example is Moore's Law. The number of researchers required today to achieve the famous doubling every two years of the density ... »

The long history of financial technology

One of the best things about history as a subject is its power to put us in our place. Progress - especially of the technological kind - is very rarely as radical as we think. When I think about all the hype surrounding the blockchain, I start to think of all the other technologies that have been used as immutable ledgers. The tally - a wooden stick used to keep track of financial transactions - i ... »

An island of stone money?

The Island of Yap plays host to one of economics' most interesting stories. It's said that the inhabitants of Yap used gigantic round pieces of limestone as a form of currency. I've encountered this story in a few popular books and even a podcast, but the academic literature seems pretty thin. I've just started my research, but I can only find a few papers and books with more than a passing allus ... »

Ideas are nothing without execution

Robert Hooke is the poster boy for the notion that it is not sufficient to have a good idea. As I've lugged Lisa Jardin's biography of Hooke around over the past few weeks, it's been hard to explain who exactly Hooke was. You may remember him as the ugly cretin in Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos series. But Hooke was so much more than that caricature. He was a brilliant polymath who coined the term ... »

The curious life of Charles Darwin

Your ideas are the sum of your influences. This is something I first came across in Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From: “ideas are works of bricolage; they’re built out of that detritus. We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.” And it's this concept, what Steven Johnson calls the "adjacent possible", that kept co ... »