Arnold Kling

Pure and Applied Science

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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Virginia Postrel describes the work of Joel Mokyr on the origins of the Industrial Revolution. He emphasizes the role of connecting pure science with applied technology.

Fertilizer has been used since antiquity, for instance. But before the 19th century, farmers did not know that nitrogen was a crucial ingredient or how it got into the soil. They thus engaged in practices like burning stalks, which released nutrients into the air rather than returning them to the soil.

After the discovery of nitrogen's role, soil scientists and chemists developed synthetic fertilizers and improved farming practices.

Discussion Question. Economists often descrie pure scientific research as a public good, whose social benefits exceed its private benefits. Applied technology is closer to a private good. What are the challenges with combining a public good with a private good?

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