Steroids vs the Smart Pill

Michael Mandel

Steroids build muscles and physical endurance. Politicians and journalists generally do not rely on muscles and physical endurance to do their jobs. That makes it much easier for the politicos and pundits to be horrified at steroids.

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.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.