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Paul Romer: Once tech’s favorite economist, now a thorn in its side

May 22, 2021 09:31 AM IST

The Nobel Laureate has become a fierce critic of the tech industry’s largest companies, saying that they stifle the flow of new ideas. He has also championed new US state taxes on the digital ads sold by companies like Facebook and Google.

Economist Paul Romer's proposal to tax digital ads would apply mainly to the biggest Internet companies that are supported by ads. (Photo credit: NYT)

Paul Romer was once Silicon Valley’s favorite economist. The theory that helped him win a Nobel Prize—that ideas are the turbocharged fuel of the modern economy—resonated deeply in the global capital of wealth-generating ideas. In the 1990s, Wired magazine called him “an economist for the technological age.” The Wall Street Journal said the tech industry treated him “like a rock star.”

Not anymore.

Today, Romer, 65, remains a believer in science and technology as engines of progress. But he has also become a fierce critic of the tech industry’s largest companies, saying that they stifle the flow of new ideas. He has championed new state taxes on the digital ads sold by companies like Facebook and Google, an idea that Maryland adopted this year.

And he is hard on economists, including himself, for long supplying the intellectual cover for hands-off policies and court rulings that have led to what he calls the “collapse of competition” in tech and other industries.