God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters.
Andrew Jorgenson, fictional CEO of New England Wire and Cable, in the movie Other People’s Money (played by Gregory Peck) (a transcript of Jorgenson’s speech is here).
What do we make? This is not a small question. Our country has continued to move away from growing stuff, to making stuff, to now primarily trafficking in ideas. This is the premise of the new column by David Brooks, The Protocol Society.
In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organizing information. A new drug is a protocol for organizing chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass.
Economic change is fomenting intellectual change. When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology.
Brooks stated that these ideas were prompted by a new book entitled From Poverty to Prosperity, by Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz. This is just a short post to raise this question: what are the key ideas that drive your thoughts, your hours, and your economic engine?