Were Paul Krugman and Paul David right after all? I'm prompted to ask by this story about the Simplified Spelling Society.
Back in the 1985, Paul David told the story of the QWERTY keyboard. It is, he said, less efficient than other keyboards, such as the Dvorak keyboard. But because we've all got used to the QWERTY board, the short-term costs of switching stop us doing so, even though it would be better in the long-run if we did.
We are, he said, locked into an inefficient system.
In Peddling Prosperity, Paul Krugman used this to argue that decentralized market decision-making could lead to massively costly errors, as we adopted sub-optimal technologies. Hence the need for state regulation, he said.
However, this claim was rebutted by Stan Leibowitz and Stephen Margolis. The alleged superiority of Dvoark was they said, a "fable." And there are loads of ways the market can avoid the lock-in problem.
However, the SSS claims that the lock-in problem, far from being a myth, has been staring us in the face for years, in the English language.
If we were starting from scratch, we surely wouldn't spell our words as we do: how would you work out that the words cough, bough, though, through and ought are all spelt similarly?
But we've all got used to this inefficient software, and it'll be loads of hassle to re-programme ourselves - even if the benefits of doing so in 100 years time will be enormous as it'll be far easier for the world's people to learn English.
So, is the English language evidence (as QWERTY arguably wasn't) of the Krugman-David claim, that decentralized evolution can yield inefficient results? If so, does it matter?