Continuing in this series (here, here and here), I found Cobb and Douglas's original paper from 1928 [pdf] where their least squares fit gives them the function:

P = 1.01 L^{3/4} C^{1/4}

$$

And they get a pretty good result:

Also, Noah Smith writes today:

Yes, in a Solow model you can tie capital K to observable things like structures and machines and vehicles. But you'll be left with a big residual, A.

Now if we use the information equilibrium model:

$$

NGDP = A \; K^{\alpha} \; L^{\beta}

$$

And use the "economic potential" (see also here):

$$

NGDP = TS + X + Y + ...

$$

$$

NGDP \approx (c/\kappa + \xi + \eta + ... ) NGDP

$$

So that ...

$$

NGDP \approx (c/\kappa + \xi + \eta + ... ) A \; K^{\alpha} \; L^{\beta}

$$

$$

= (A c/\kappa + A \xi + A \eta + ... ) \; K^{\alpha} \; L^{\beta}

$$

$$

= (\underbrace{A c/\kappa}_{\text{residual productivity}} + \underbrace{A \xi + A \eta + ...}_{\text{measurable output}}) \; K^{\alpha} \; L^{\beta}

$$

or

$$

= (\underbrace{A c/\kappa}_{\text{entropy}} + \underbrace{A \xi + A \eta + ...}_{\text{real output}}) \; K^{\alpha} \; L^{\beta}

$$

So that we say

$$

NGDP \approx (A_{TS} + A_{0}) \; K^{\alpha} \; L^{\beta}

$$

Noah's statement is essentially that we expect a number the size of $A_{0}$, but it turns out it is large (i.e. the size of $A_{TS} + A_{0}$) and $A_{TS}$ is this large residual (or the whole term is the large residual). In this description, the Cobb Douglas production function works because the entropy term is approximately proportional to output: $TS \approx (c/\kappa) NGDP$.

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