Dynamist Blog

Skill Pills

On his blog, BusinessWeek'sMichael Mandel suggests that journalists and politicians might not be so hostile to steroid use if their jobs required bigger muscles:

But would we be quite so horrified, I wonder, if we were talking about "smart pills" or memory pills instead of steroids? Suppose that a pharmaceutical company was selling a pill that would improve your memory by 30% or your IQ by 30%, with the same sort of side effects as steroids. Would you be willing to take them for 3 or 5 critical years in your career? What if you knew that everyone else was taking them? What if you knew that the Chinese or the French were taking them? And would you be willing to give your kids these pills in, say, the junior year of high school, to increase the odds of getting a good score on the SAT?

The real problem with steroids: They enhance Old Economy capabilities, not New Economy skills. They make us better factory workers, not smarter knowledge workers.

I'd challenge that last dichotomy. "Knowledge work" of the kind Mandel and I do isn't the only New Economy skill. Sports is one of those huge New Economy industries that people with high SATs tend to forget. And it's not just a matter of big-time athletes. The guy who would have been a factory line worker a generation ago is now a personal trainer at the local gym, a job that requires more "professional" people skills and personal discipline but is just as physical. Brainpower isn't the only source of intangible economic value.

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