Seven Questions For Economist Lee Ohanian

Lee Ohanian
Lee Ohanian

How difficult is it to hire workers with the necessary skills?

When one looks at workers with degrees or grad degrees in math or engineering, upon graduation, they're holding several job offers in-hand. Companies are fighting for them. Low-skilled workers have virtually no opportunities. Virtually every tech company I've talked to says, 'I can't find qualified workers.' For people in their 40s and 50s who don't have those skills, it's a matter of retraining. If you want to do web design, there's some stuff you have to do beforehand. It's tough to transform them into the workers we're talking about. It can take several years.

How do you think the next 30 years of innovation will compare with the last 30 years?

It's potentially more exciting in the area of medicine. Orthopedics are talking about ways to grow cartilage that would erase arthritis. Doctors are talking about using real time imaging during operations to make operations safer, advances in robotics in surgery to make surgery safer. In the last 30 years we've seen MRI and cancer advances, but advances since 1970 pale in comparison to what we're talking about now. Driverless cars would be enormously valuable and time-saving. That's exciting as well. The huge breakthrough innovations will be the ones that allow us to enjoy our time or use our time.

What makes an innovation valuable to the larger economy?

Two aspects. One is that it expands the amount of goods and services we can produce and earn. Henry Ford, when he perfected the assembly line, he doubled worker productivity just like that. It creates new markets, new opportunities and new business lines. If we hadn't had a technological revolution in farming, we would still need half our population to produce our food rather than the 4 tenths of one percent that do today. It also creates new goods.