31 May 2011 at 23:01
Is there a Mathematics Generation Gap
Calculators became affordable in the mid- to late-1970s. Students in the 1980s were taught by teachers who had learned mathematics without calculators, and could do basic mental arithmetic. Students today might be taught by a teacher who is himself unable to work out 37+16 without help. The consequences are neatly described in an “Alex” cartoon I have on my fridge about a proposal to ban the use of calculators in school. “Faced with home work which requires him to work out simple sums in his head today’s lazy seven-year-old will instinctively turn to the quick and easy method of arriving at the answer… i.e. asking his dad, who, embarrassingly also wouldn’t have a clue without a calculator.”
Implications of this could be interesting for software development. When there is a large part of the workforce unable to do simple calculations without the use of a “Guessing Box” I expect there will be a lot more errors in software. Or at least errors that can be attributed to the Garbage In, Garbage Out problem of the users (and developers) not having the basic skills to detect implausible answers from systems.
24 May 2011 at 16:30
Brad DeLong admits to a problem
Four years ago we economists were writing learned papers about the “Great Moderation”: about how it looked as though the governing institutions of the world economy had finally learned how to control and moderate if not completely eliminate the business cycle–the epileptic seizures of the economy that leave us with pointlessly high unemployment, pointlessly idle capacity, and pointlessly rusting away machines in spite of there being no fundamental cause for machines to be idle, factories closed, and workers unemployed. In such an epileptic seizure of the economy, workers are unemployed and machines are idle because there isn’t the demand to employ them, and there isn’t the demand to employ because the workers are unemployed and have no incomes.
We have been seeing these epileptic seizures called business cycles fairly regularly since at least 1825.
And we have been claiming that we have it licked fairly regularly since 1825 as well.
British Prime Minister Robert Peel thought we had it licked with his Bank of England reforms in the 1840s.
While some of the explanations in that post are to my mind a bit off, the overall message is that economics is still not very good at predicting what will happen with the economy.