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The Great Mystery of Economic Growth

Speaker Name: 
Dr. John Parmentola
Start Time: 
Monday, April 15, 2019 - 2:00pm
End Time: 
Monday, April 15, 2019 - 3:30pm
Engineering 2 room 180
Darrell Long


Since the publication in 1776 of Adam Smith’s groundbreaking book
on capitalism, The Wealth of Nations, the cause of economic growth remains
an unresolved mystery.  Volatile stock markets, fairness in trade, rising
interest rates, tax issues, deficit spending, illegal immigration, business
and job creation, and wage stagnation dominate the economic growth
discussion.  The hope has been that economists would eventually put their
finger on it and relieve the world of this major uncertainty. Instead,
there appears to be more uncertainty and debate today than ever before.

In this seminar, I will challenge conventional wisdom regarding the key
drivers of economic growth.  I will describe how curious minds throughout
human history created extraordinary prosperity and wealth for the world—the
result of government and wealthy patron investments in people.  These
investments produced unique assets in the form of new knowledge about the
natural world, which formed unpredictable recurring patterns in history.
Over time, these patterns resulted in technology revolutions that produced
unique pathways to economic growth, particularly for the U.S., which became
a world economic and military power after The Second World War.  However,
government investments in people are no longer being sustained at
meaningful levels resulting in reduced opportunities to create growth.  I
will explain the powerful social and political forces that have caused this
change and resulted in a culture largely focused on efficiency,
risk-aversion, and incrementalism.  Current speculations that we are on a
path to stagnation are a likely consequence of this unabated downward trend
in government investment over the last half-century. I will discuss how
this path can be changed to ensure that prosperity continues for future


Born in the Bronx, New York, Dr. Parmentola earned a bachelor of
science degree in physics cum laude from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn,
and his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology.  Dr. Parmentola has served as Senior Vice President of General
Atomics, U.S. Army Director for Research and Laboratory Management, Chief
Scientist to the Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Department of Energy
and co-founder of the Advanced Systems and Concepts Office of the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency.

He has been on the faculty of M.I.T., West Virginia University, a Fellow at
the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a Principal Scientist for
Strategic Command, Control, and Communications Division of the MITRE
Corporation.  He is a recipient of the Alfred Raymond Prize, Sigma XI
Research Award and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science. He was also an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the
University of Pittsburgh and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow at the John
F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He has presented and
published more than 500 speeches, papers, and articles and is the author of
an authoritative book on space defense.