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Paving the Way for Technology

February 1, 2013 3 minute Read by John Prestbo
Advances in technology surely will be among the factors that help us accelerate U.S. economic growth. But did you know there is nothing we can do to speed their arrival? That is the message of a recent Mind & Matter column in The Wall Street Journal. It seems that technological progress occurs on a fairly regular basis. Moore’s Law (computing power doubles every 18 months) and Cooper’s Law (the number of possible simultaneous wireless communications doubles every 30 months) can be traced back to the dawn of the 20th century. And it doesn’t matter what else is going on in the world.  The Great Depression didn’t slow the momentum, and the massive tech expenditures of World War II didn’t quicken it. If mere mortal man has very little to do with the rate of technological progress, what does? There is no certain answer, the article says, but it speculates that advances beget advances: “In other words, technology is driving its own progress by steadily expanding its own capacity to bring ideas together.” The article goes on to say it is reassuring that bad public policies don’t prevent progress, but depressing that good policies can’t hasten it. My skepticism kicks in at this point. Technological advances may come to pass regularly, but these exist in laboratories and often in academia. Bringing them into the everyday world where they can actually improve our lives and make an economic contribution is very much affected by public policy. While scientists and other thinkers might be the midwives to new technology, it is businesspeople and investors who “raise” them — transform the test tubes and chalkboard scribbles into viable products and services. Federal and state taxes, regulatory requirements, and a host of other policy-impacted factors play a key role in how quickly, and how cheaply, technological advances find their way to where we live. It’s nice to know that technological progress is a consistent blessing. It’s our job to pave the way for those advances to roll into the real world.

Author

John Prestbo
John Prestbo

2012 Economic Growth Fellow

John Prestbo is retired as editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes. Previously he was markets editor at The Wall Street Journal. He has co-authored or edited several books over the past 30 years. The most recent is “The Market’s Measure: An Illustrated History of America Told Through the Dow Jones Industrial Average,” published in 1999 by Dow Jones Indexes. His column, Indexed Investor, appears on the highly regarded “MarketWatch” business and finance website. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University.

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