Too often, the questions that we ask about our own time-period reflect a limited understanding of history. For example, consider the question: why is there still poverty and inequality? It’s a worthy question, but an even better one might be: How did so many societies, against all odds and without historical precedent, escape poverty and become wealthy? How have we come so far in our attempt to escape the “nasty, short and brutish” existence of our ancestors? Instead of just focusing on what we are still doing wrong, maybe we should also put some attention on how we managed to do so much right, for so long. How did we succeed beyond all hope and expectations? How did we raise our economic expectations so high that people think material abundance for everyone is even a possible goal, let alone a universal right?
In his new book Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the 20th Century, UC Berkeley professor Brad DeLong digs into the policies of the last century, exploring the hows and whys of the recent explosion in material and economic development. No one living in the 16th or 17th century would have imagined a future of such abundance. To them, it might seem close to a utopia, at least in some parts of the world. To us, there is still so much work to do, particularly to make that wealth global and more universal. Given that historical context, should we be optimistic about the next century, or have we reached the limits of this type of economic explosion? Is abundance in our future? Or stagnation? And what might we do to tip the scales?
More about Brad DeLong
Brad DeLong is a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a weblogger at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and a fellow of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. He received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1982 and 1987. He joined UC Berkeley as an associate professor in 1993 and became a full professor in 1997.
Professor DeLong also served in the U.S. government as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy from 1993 to 1995. He worked on the Clinton Administration’s 1993 budget, on the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, on the North American Free Trade Agreement, on macroeconomic policy, and on the unsuccessful health care reform effort.
Before joining the Treasury Department, Professor DeLong was Danziger Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. He has also been a John M. Olin Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Boston University, and a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at M.I.T.
Read Brad’s latest at https://braddelong.substack.com/