Kids and Water Balloons Correct Productivity and Birthrate Pessimists
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At risk of aging and incriminating myself, as I child I would routinely fill up water balloons with friends in order to throw them at passersby. The making of water balloons was a lengthy process. The mouth of each balloon had to be wrapped around a water source, and just the wrapping frequently resulted in a popped balloon. Twenty balloons easily required at least 30 minutes.

How things change. Nowadays thirty-five ready-to-toss balloons can be created in roughly 15 seconds. By kids operating alone. It’s as basic as attaching the balloons to a hose all at one time. Each balloon is connected to a straw of sorts, and the straw is connected to a hose-attachable base. The balloons fill up very quickly. Once full, kids can remove each balloon from the straw and quickly be out front pelting people, cars, and anything else. Again, how things change.

Where it arguably becomes more interesting is that this is water balloons. We’re not talking about a dynamic industry, or one that could be dynamic thanks to it being matched with intrepid, aggressive capital. This is a sleepy, easily forgotten, dated concept, yet they’re so much better than they once were. The number of balloons that can be thrown per kid per minute has skyrocketed, while the time cost of making each balloon has plummeted.

It’s something to think about with productivity well in mind. Jon Cowperthwaite (Hong Kong’s financial secretary) put it best long ago with his oh-so-correct assertion that government measures of economic growth were wholly incapable of tracking the kind of dynamic growth that they aimed to measure. Not even close.

Notable about Cowperthwaite is that he observed what he did back in the 1960s. If economic measurements by bureaucrats were unequal to the dynamic reality of Hong Kong back then, imagine how insufficient the measures are now.

Nowadays we have supercomputers that we insult with the adjective “phone,” and that free us to work productively from anywhere, and all the time. Thinking about those phones, can the speed of search engines like Google that we access on them be properly measured, or can the number of potential customers met with daily thanks to GPS systems be properly tracked? What will technology of the ChatGPT variety mean for our productivity?

From the above, parallel but different questions arise about birthrates. To economists and pundits of varying stripes who seemingly view humans as static in terms of capability, falling birthrates below the so-called “replacement rate” signal plummeting prosperity in the future as the number of babies born shrinks relative to the number of humans taking various checks from government. Supposedly China is doomed, certainly South Korea is given its lowest in the world birthrate in concert with highest in the world suicide rate, and then even the U.S. is apparently in trouble since its “replacement rate” is 1.8 per mother, or something like that.

It's all so scary to those who lurch from one “crisis” to another, but the joke is on the perpetually worried. Indeed, if we ignore that actual market signals of the capital flow variety thoroughly reject all the pessimism of the birthrate pessimists, we need only look around us. It’s not that government measures of economic growth are designed to draw a pessimistic outlook, it’s that they’re yet again unequal to measuring what is remarkable. Really, if water balloon production is soaring, what does that tell us about the parts of the economy actually attracting significant amounts of investment?

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

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