Life Lessons from Robert Solow

Technological solutions can only go so far, look at policy.

Solow thinks we do not fully appreciate how many people now work in service industries. And, he adds, “it’s probably harder to organize service workers than factory workers.” Six employees scattered in a CVS do not have the same type of experience as 600 on a factory floor. The nature of work today reduces labor solidarity. “Workplaces over time in the economy as a whole probably have become more isolated,” he says. “In fact, the image of anybody working today is one person, staring at a computer screen.” Yes, technology does matter, but sometimes in unexpected ways.

Do not be stuffy, interact with everyone.

“… was the best economist in the world, and there was nothing stuffy about him. He interacted with everybody,”

Technological progress is needed for growth. This is something governments are missing today.

His paper “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth,” from the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 1956, presented his famous model describing how under certain basic conditions, even a growing population and increased capital investment will not sustain economic growth. Instead, it is technological progress that will power such growth over time.

Do not go after something because there is data available, start with what problem are you trying to solve.

“I think the way people do economics today is too much governed by the availability of data,” he says. “A lot of the articles that I see written in the journals seem to exist not because there is a problem here that needs to be solved, or a puzzle that needs to be explained, but because I have come upon this enormous bunch of data, [and figure] these data have to include the answer to some question.” But, he adds, that’s “natural,” given the sheer amount of data on hand and the pressure to publish.