Football managers, attention spans and economic growth

I have only just caught up with Katie Allen’s blog on the Guardian website reflecting on a speech by Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist to students at UEA earlier this week. Katie Allen focused on one aspect of Andy Haldane’s speech – whether shorter attention spans threaten economic growth:

“We are clearly in the midst of an information revolution, with close to 99% of the entire stock of information ever created having been generated this century. This has had real benefits. But it may also have had cognitive costs. One of those potential costs is shorter attention spans,” Haldane told the University of East Anglia.

“Some societal trends are consistent with that. The tenure of jobs and relationships is declining. The average tenure of Premiership football managers has fallen by one month per year since 1994. On those trends, it will fall below one season by 2020. And what is true of football is true of finance. Average holding periods of assets have fallen tenfold since 1950. The rising incidence of attention deficit disorders, and the rising prominence of Twitter, may be further evidence of shortening attention spans.”

If there is a shift to short-termism, then innovation and hence growth may be at risk. Both Haldane and Allen point to a fascinating issue. But I also wonder if the era of Big (and even Bigger) Data might eventually change our attitudes towards what kind of decisions can be left to humans and humans alone, and which decisions must necessarily be delegated to, or at least shared with machines. In 25 or 50 or 75 years, our descendants might be amazed not just that we let human beings drive cars and fly planes, but also picked stocks and bought and sold bonds – all on their own.

Haldane’s speeches are always interesting, and – if I am not distracted by something on my smartphone – I intend to read the full speech shortly.


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