As an end-of-year type post, here is a list of economic stories that I think will be worth following next year. Note that all of them are long-term stories, which won’t be resolved in 2006 alone.1. Productivity. With entitlement reform seemingly impossible, our only hope is a bailout from productivity. Is the new trend rate of productivity growth 3 percent or higher? If so, that is very big news. The story will unfold at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2. Cognitive Neuroscience. Is this the field that every bright young person with a social science bent should enter? How well can an fMRI read your mind? Follow the story at Brain Waves, BrainBlog, and MIT Technology Review–biotech.

3. Solar Power. According to the U.S. Department of Energy,

Within 10 years, photovoltaic power will be competitive in price with traditional sources of electricity.

If this is true, or if Ray Kurzweil is correct that we are even closer, then this is big news. Follow the story at the energy department’s solar news page.

4. Cancer Therapy. There is a lot of optimism out there. Suppose we develop cures. Will foreign consumers share the cost, or will they get another free ride? As far as the research goes, follow the story at MIT Technology Review–biotech.

5. Mainstream Media Meltdown. I think that it is fair to say that over the past two years the major newspapers and television news programs have lost “attention share” as well as some of their prestige. My guess is that this decline will accelerate in the future. Follow the story at The Long Tail.