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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

January 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Bill Gates, on fixing the world

“My plan to fix the world’s biggest problems,” is the headline on an essay in the Wall Street Journal by Bill Gates. His answer: Measure them and the steps to address them.

An innovation–whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed–can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. We need innovations in measurement to find new, effective ways to deliver those tools and services to the clinics, family farms and classrooms that need them.

It’s a good point that every manager knows: What gets measured gets done. To go Gates one step further, every metropolitan economic-development organization should be measuring its local economy by scores of benchmarks and then comparing these to peer metros. But the challenges are significant, too. Who sets the metrics can build in biases that, for example, leave out important external costs or fail to track critical areas of performance. Manipulation of data is the oldest trick. The white noise of so much data can confuse or mislead.

Measurement also can’t produce political will, disarm powerful industries or change customs. Otherwise we wouldn’t have faced the subprime debacle, whose risks were obvious at the time. Or we would be doing something about human-caused climate change, which is happening now and faster and more severely than scientists had feared. Speaking of which, Gates’ essay never mentions climate change.

And Don’t Miss: The SEC should end “no confession” settlements || NY Times

Today’s Econ Haiku:

The days fly on by

So it’s not the battery

Boeing still gets charged

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