A collection of quotes/images/parables/passages I like related to progress studies.

“Economics is not a field but a calling. A doctor can treat and help a patient. An economist could raise the standard of living of millions who would never know his or her name.” Professor Larry Summers commenting on what he learned from Professor Martin Weitzman.

“Learn about the world and learn what we don’t understand about it yet. Do what excites and interests you. That will make research fun, which is super important. Plus, if you find it interesting, likely others will too. Don’t chase after what you think will publish well.” Professor Nathan Nunn

“I do not see how one can look at figures like these without seeing them as representing possibilities. Is there some action a government of India could take that would lead the Indian economy to grow like Indonesia’s or Egypt’s? If so, what, exactly? If not, what is it about the ‘nature of India’ that makes it so? The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.” Robert Lucas, 1988. No class on growth is every complete if this quote isn’t mentioned at least once (along with the image of North/South Korea below).

Chad Jones “Seems like it applies to economics as well” referring to a quote by Brian Greene, in The Fabric of the Cosmos, “Physicists spend a large part of their lives in a state of confusion. It’s an occupational hazard. To excel in physics is to embrace doubt while walking the winding road to clarity. The tantalizing discomfort of perplexity is what inspires otherwise ordinary men and women to extraordinary feats of ingenuity and creativity; nothing quite focuses the mind like dissonant details awaiting harmonious resolution. But en route to explanation — during their search for new frameworks to address outstanding questions — theorists must tread with considered step through the jungle of bewilderment, guided mostly by hunches, inklings, clues, and calculations. And as the majority of researchers have a tendency to cover their tracks, discoveries often bear little evidence of the arduous terrain that’s been covered. But don’t lose sight of the fact that nothing comes easily. Nature does not give up her secrets lightly.” 

Satellite image taken of North/South Korea at night, showing the power of Economic Growth Credit: NASA Earth Observatory. Source: Flickr

“You literally ought to be asking yourself all the time what is the most important thing in the world I could be working on right now, and if you are not working on that why aren’t you?” Aaron Swartz

Richard Hamming’s three questions for new hires at Bell Labs: “1- What are you working on? 2- What’s the most important open problem in your area? 3- Why aren’t they the same?”

“Science isn’t the sum of what scientists think. Had science operated by majority consensus we would be still stuck in the Middle Ages and Einstein would have ended as he started, a patent clerk with fruitless side hobbies.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Economic Historian Robert Heilbroner in 1965 said “as machines continue to invade society, duplicating greater and greater numbers of social tasks, it is human labor itself—at least, as we now think of ‘labor’—that is gradually rendered redundant”

“Labor will become less and less important… More and more workers will be replaced by machines. I do not see that new industries can employ everybody who wants a job.” Wassily Leontief

“We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come — namely, technological unemployment…due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labor outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labor” (Keynes 1930).

“I had also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely that whenever published fact, a new observation of thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones.” Charles Darwin

In an editorial in 1851 The Economist wrote that granting patents, “inflames cupidity, excites fraud, stimulates men to run after schemes…begets disputes and quarrels betwixt inventors, provokes endless lawsuits [and] makes men ruin themselves for the sake of getting the privilege of a patent.”

“Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier.” Ronald Reagan, 1989

“I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.” Hans Rosling

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