It takes significant effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called the freedom of mind. And there is a real chance that, once lost, those who grow up in the digital age – in which the power to command and shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies – will have difficulty regaining it.
Universities pride themselves on producing creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, yet higher-education teaching techniques continue to evolve at a glacial pace. Given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?
The CEOs of Davos were euphoric this year about the return to growth, strong profits, and soaring executive compensation. Economists reminded them that this growth is not sustainable, and has never been inclusive; but in a world where greed is always good, such arguments have little impact.
The decline in the dollar’s exchange rate seems to have gathered momentum, in part because the person who has his signature on US currency, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, seems unperturbed by its weakness. If it continues, will energy costs spiral upward?
Boosters of blockchain technology compare its early days to the early days of the Internet. But whereas the Internet quickly gave rise to email, the World Wide Web, and millions of commercial ventures, blockchain's only application – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – does not even fulfill its stated purpose.
The US economy has experienced nine recessions during the last 50 years. What makes the current situation unusual and more worrying than in the past is the low level of short-term interest rates and the high (and rising) level of federal debt, which will limit policymakers' ability to provide the stimulus needed to counter a recession.
It is impossible to pin down the full cause of the high price of the US stock market. That alone should remind all investors of the importance of diversification, and that the overall US stock market should not be given too much weight in a portfolio.
Unless there is a notable geopolitical shock, traditional oil producers should treat the recent oil-price gains as a temporary windfall, not a permanent state of affairs. To prolong the price recovery as long as possible, they should reinforce their collective production discipline.
Economists have endless debates about whether culture or institutions lie at the root of economic performance. But there is every reason to be concerned that the recent wave of populism is a threat to both.
Several positive macroeconomic trends suggest that the global economy could finally be in a position to achieve sustained and inclusive growth. But whether that happens will depend on whether governments can muster a more forceful response to changing economic and technological conditions.