I have a couple of general thoughts about the event, colored by another meeting full of economists, bankers, and traders that I attended in the last week of December. I met a number of fantastically accomplished and interesting people in just a few hours, many of whom I hope will remain lifelong friends.
First, I have to extend my thanks to The Economist -- they have been very good to me over the last 10 years, beginning in 2000 by co-sponsoring (with Shell) the inaugural World in 2050 writing competition. (Here is my essay from the competition (PDF). It seems to be holding up pretty well, these 10 years later, save the part about building a heart. But at least I wasn't the only one who got that wrong.)
Here is a paraphrased conversation over drinks between myself and Daniel Franklin, the Executive Editor of the newspaper.
Me: I wanted to thank you for including me. The Economist has been very kind to me over the past decade.
Franklin: Well, keep doing interesting things.
Me: Umm, right. (And then to myself: Shit, I have a lot of work to do.)
On to the World in 2010 Festival. The professional economists and journalists present all seem to agree that we have seen the worst of the downturn, that the stimulus package clipped the bottom off of whatever we were falling into, and that employment gains going forward could be a long time in coming. Unsurprisingly, the Democratic politicians and operatives who turned up crowed about the effects of the stimulus, while the Republicans who spoke poo-pooed any potential bright spots in, well, just about everything.
At the other meeting I attended, last week in Charleston, SC, one panel of 10 people, composed Federal reserve and private bankers, traders, and journalists couldn't agree on anything. The recovery would be V shaped. No, no, W shaped. No, no, no, reverse square root shaped (which was the consensus at The World in 2010 Festival). No, no, no, no, L shaped. But even those who agreed on the shape did not agree on anything else, such as the availability of credit, employment, etc.
Basically, as far as I can tell, nobody has the slightest idea what the future of the US economy looks like. And I certainly don't have anything to add to that. Except, of course, that the future is biology.
Here is John Oliver's opening monologue from the Festival. He was absolutely hilarious. Unfortunately you can't hear the audience cracking up continuously. I nearly pissed myself. Several times. (Maybe the cocktails earlier in the evening contributed to both reactions.)
Back to Innovation in 2010. Dean Kamen had this nice bit in response to a question about whether the imperative to invent and innovate has increased in recent years (see 36:20 in the C-Span video): "7 billion people can't be recipients, they have to be part of the solution. And that is going to require advanced technologies to be properly developed and properly deployed more rapidly than ever before."
To this I can only add that we are now seeing more power to innovate put into the hands of individuals than has ever occurred in the history of humanity. Let's hope we don't screw up.