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The Rest

A guide to some of the articles here that don't quite fit into other categories (yet)

Published onMar 08, 2023
The Rest

This post provides a quick overview of claim articles in New Things Under the Sun that are at present not good fits for any of the other index posts. It is designed more to help you quickly see what an article discusses, rather than to highlight the most important conclusions or takeaways.

Click one of the following links to jump to an article overview, or simply scroll down. Click on the title of any given overview to jump to the associated claim article on New Things Under the Sun.

What are the returns to R&D?

  • Explains the intuition behind a famous paper that shows the average return to R&D is equal to the growth rate, divided by the savings rate and the interest rate.

  • Discusses how various complications change this result

    • What if some of the growth benefits of technology arise for free, for example via learning by doing?

    • What if R&D underestimates the true cost of developing and diffusing new technologies?

    • What if there are benefits to R&D beyond GDP growth?

An example of high returns to publicly funded R&D

  • We’ve got some good theoretical reasons to think the return on R&D is very high, on average.

  • Several papers look at a specific class of R&D program - the SBIR in the USA, and SME instrument in the EU - that gives R&D grants to small firms.

  • These papers compare applicants to the program who barely win, to those who barely lose.

  • These studies suggest the grants are as effective at funding innovation at about the same level as the private sector could manage.

  • If we try to assess the broader impact of that funding, we find including all the social benefits gives us a return at least twice as high as the ones we got by focusing just on the grant recipients.

Optimal kickstarter

  • Explains the intuition for a clever paper that finds a formula for how you can optimally fund public goods (like innovations) with a combination of crowd-funds (as with kickstarter) and a large patron.

  • Funding public goods with crowd contributions is challenging because individuals might only consider their private benefits, not the benefits to everyone else, when deciding how much to contribute

  • The formula circumvents this problem by allowing donors to “purchase” more support for a project with the patron’s funds.

  • The article closes by examining a few challenges to implementing the scheme in the real world.

More people leads to more ideas

  • Looks at three papers arguing larger populations are associated with more innovation (at least, in the pre-industrial world)

    • In lab experiments, larger groups are better able to improve simple (artificial) technologies and maintain complex ones

    • Across separated islands in Oceania, islands with larger populations had larger and more complex sets of tools

    • Over human history, the rate of population growth (used here as a proxy for the rate of economic growth, which is itself assumed to be a proxy for the rate of innovation) is faster in eras and places with larger populations.

      • At least until the demographic transition

      • And our data for this is pretty poor

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