SYNOPSIS: Article interviewing Krugman. Doubtful on New Economy claims By Kevin Kelly

You've studied the dynamics of cities. I wonder if you see nation-states becoming more like cities.

I have mixed feelings about all that. The one thing that remains true in the modern world, despite all of the increases in communication and so on, is that the movement of people is very far from free. When you get to an international level, it means that more often the jobs have to move where the people are, as opposed to the people moving where the jobs are, which is what happens within countries. It means that governments retain large power to collect taxes, despite all of the things that people do to avoid them, because ultimately most people are stuck in the country where they are. Until or unless that changes - and it's not clear that anything about modern technology is going to change it - the nation-state remains a very relevant unit. I think the point where computers get smarter than we are may come before nation-states are meaningless. In that case, it's their problem.

What myths about the new economy should people relinquish?

Everybody, when they first start to realize that economics can be nonlinear, that you can have large effects from small causes, that things can be dynamic and explosive rather than always tending toward equilibrium - everybody gets really excited. This can be terribly important. But the world is not always as much fun as I'd like it to be; it's always important to pause, take a cold shower, and ask yourself, "OK, that's a really exciting possibility. Is it what's really happening in practice?"

A few years ago, you predicted the coming age of inequality will give way to a golden age of equality. How so?

Right now, the kind of technologies we have are still in their infancy, which means that they are still fairly hard to use, so a lot of people are engaged in the business of actually putting the technologies to work. But if you ask what sorts of jobs are computers and networks going to be able to take over as they become more mature, and what sorts of jobs are they not able to take over, you realize that the answer is: They won't be able to do the kind of things that involve basic human abilities, things like plumbing and gardening and anything that involves contact with the physical world. If you look some distance ahead, you can argue that the long-term impact of information technology is going to devalue abstract symbolic work.

So the wages of a plumber will rise to the level of today's knowledge worker?

That's right. The premium people get for a lot of extra education will decline sharply. It will be a much more egalitarian society.