Arnold Kling  

The Dispersion of Knowledge: A Data Point

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics has updated its job classification system. Theresa Cosca and Alissa Emmel report,

Compared with the 2000 SOC system, the 2010 SOC system realized a net gain of 19 detailed occupations, 12 broad occupations, and 1 minor group. Table 2 compares the hierarchical structures of the 1980, 2000, and 2010 SOC systems.

When I was writing Unchecked and Unbalanced, I found it difficult to document that knowledge has become more specialized and dispersed over time. This is the sort of data point that might support that proposition. However, the changes between 1980 and 2000 were much larger quantitatively than those of the last ten years.

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CATEGORIES: Growth: Consequences

COMMENTS (4 to date)
mdb writes:

To me, it makes sense the changes were larger between 1980 and 2000, many new technologies came online during that time, 2000 to 2010 saw the maturation of the 1980-2000 technologies, but not as many new ones.

effem writes:

You believe that the dispersion of knowledge means we need a dispersion of authority, decision-making, etc. and I tend to agree.

How is it then that you think extreme wealth concentration makes sense? If knowledge is dispersed and knowledge/expertise have something to do with wealth creation then I would think wealth would become more dispersed. Quite the opposite - it appears fewer and fewer people add value in the world.

How do you reconcile that?

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Part of what we are observing (in the statistics formats) may be only the dispersion of INFORMATION, and while information is the base of most knowledge information is not knowledge.

People may have to be informed to function, but not necessarily need have knowledge of their function.

Rafael Guthmann writes:

Information and knowledge are related but are not the same thing. Information is defined as data while knowledge is defined as the understanding of the implications of having data.

It would be theoretically possible to have a society with thousands of different occupations, but where everybody works for the same firm and this firm is onwed by a single entrepreneur that makes all the entrepreneurial decisions. In this hypothetical society, only the knowledge of this entrepreneur would be utilized. That would be a centrally planned society.

In the real world, the capacity to discover knowledge is related to the capacity of aquiring information, as result, if information is dispersed, so is knowledge. In a society based on division of labor, knowledge is always transmitted, usually though the price system. While in a society of self suficient farmers, the production and consumption plans of different farmers don`t need to be coordinated and knowledge is not transmitted, but is dispersed since each farmer has knowledge regarding his individual conditions. So, even in a society of one profession, knowledge is dispersed but not transmitted, trade and specialization imply in the transmission of knolwedge.

The reduction in the number of new profession types is a reflection of the reduction in the rate of economic progress in the united states between 2000 and 2010 compared to the 1980-2000 period. The rate of transmission of knowledge is decreasing, maybe because there isn`t as much new knowledge to be transmitted (fewer new technologies), or because of the worse macroeconomic conditions of the united states during the 2000`s.

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