Brad DeLong knows the economic miracle is over
Brad DeLong felt confident that the story began in 1870.
The multicultural economist was writing a book on economic modernity — about how humans went from gaining a presence on our tiny planet to building a kind of utopia on it — and saw an inflection point centuries after the emergence of capitalism and decades after its emergence. of large-scale manufacturing. “The Industrial Revolution is good. The Industrial Revolution is huge,” he explained to me recently, sitting on the back porch of his timber-clad colonial home in Berkeley, California. But “as of 1870, things haven’t changed much for most people.” Shortly thereafter—after developing the vertically integrated company, industrial research laboratory, state-of-the-art communication devices, and modular charging technologies—”everything changes in one generation, and then changes over and over, over and over again.” Global growth quadrupled. The world is emerging from near-global agricultural poverty. Modernity takes hold.
DeLong began work on this story in 1994. He has produced hundreds of thousands of words, then hundreds of thousands more, and has updated the text as the academic economy and the world itself change. He continued to write, for years, for decades, for so long that he ended up writing for roughly 5 percent of the time capitalism itself existed. The problem was not figuring out how the story began. The problem was knowing when to end.
In time, he determined that the era that began in 1870 ended in 2010, soon after productivity growth and GDP growth collapsed, as inequality stifled economic vitality around the world, and vengeful political populism was on the rise. With more writing, it’s over Sluggishness towards the utopiaOne of the most anticipated economic books of the year, which will be published on Tuesday. His long-running examination of what he calls the “long twentieth century” is sweeping, detailed, educated, accessible, familiar and strange–a definitive look at how we came to this material splendor and how it fails to deliver all that it seemed to count. His decision to finish the story in 2010, and thus finish his book, carries a message for all of us: Despite its problems and misdeeds, the economic era Americans have just experienced has been a miracle. And now it’s over.
As for DeLong’s story himself: an economic historian and macroeconomist at UC Berkeley, a champion of liberal politics and one of the original economic bloggers, he still publishes his ideas almost daily, as he has since before the word Articles It was invented in 1999. I think its story really began in Washington, DC, where he grew up as the son of a lawyer and psychiatrist obsessed with science fiction and math. (His mother still receives patients.) He went to Harvard University to get his bachelor’s degree and then his Ph.D. In economics, write papers and make close friends with a teenage Soviet refugee named Andrei Schleifer (the second most famous economist on Earth) and Larry Summers (former Treasury Secretary and Harvard University president). “Brad is the person you want to write with if you want a collaborator who does something bold, potentially important, possibly wrong, and unlikely to satisfy pedant academic judges,” Summers told me. “I am a very big fan of the man.”
Besides his academic work, DeLong worked in the Clinton administration. He married legal scholar Anne-Marie Marciarelle, an expert in health care regulation; They had two children, now adults. And he started blogging – the thing he’s probably best known for. Since 1999, he has written for his “Quasi-Daily Magazine”, a funny, cultured and quirky magazine. (Over the years, he has denounced at least 11 people as “the dumbest man alive,” including former World Bank President Bob Zoellick.)
Previously, DeLong’s Book Project blog. In 1994, he read the book of socialist historian Eric Hobsbawm era of the endAnd the In the “short twentieth century” between the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, in 1914, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991. “The circumstances of his birth,” DeLong told me. He loved it, and decided to cast his long bow, with capitalism as the tragic hero.
The heroic part is heroic: For the first time in history, DeLong notes that the world has managed to innovate Enough After 1870. It is enough to end subsistence farming in many parts of the world. Enough to reduce the global child mortality rate from about 50 percent to less than 5 percent. It is enough that many of the poorest people on earth have access to cell phones and electricity today. But the tragic part is tragic: This modern era has also brought about machine guns, atomic bombs, and the atrocities of the Holocaust, among other genocides. And even as many economies have succeeded, many governments have failed—to end racial injustice, protect the most vulnerable, ensure everyone can participate in the world’s prosperity, and preserve our common environment.
In his basement, attic, and office, DeLong continued to compile his book. He used freelance marketer Friedrich Hayek and social protectionist Karl Polanyi as central figures, then carved out details around a huge cast of characters: Marx; Henry Ford; Keynes. Hitler. Gandhi. His great-uncle, an economic historian named Abbott Payson Usher.
Its editors continued to check. His friends inquired about the drafts they had read years earlier. The project swelled in its complexity. “I had editors who were saying [they were] I’m going to drop me if I can’t get to 150,000 words,” DeLong told me. (The book ended with 180,000, plus notes and appendices online.) But he kept learning new things. He told me, “I can start reading a book, Hence I can spin in my mind a secondary embodiment of the author’s mind, which I then run on my wet instruments.” “I can ask him questions, and here he is.” the answers. Describing his thought process, he added, “A rich inner life is one way of expressing it. Or perhaps a slight absence of control over what is the real world and what is not.”
In 1999, he thought the book could end with a discussion of what Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history” – the idea, spread in a book of the same name, that the fall of communism heralded the ultimate victory of democracy and the neoliberal free market. Economics. There were these huge ideological struggles, but now we kind of have I understood youDeLong said, describing his way of thinking at the turn of the millennium. “There will be some alternation in the future between right-wing neoliberalism, left-wing neoliberalism and social democracy.” But then came 9/11 and the global war on terror. “It seemed like people were about to start killing each other in droves because of religion,” DeLong said. Furthermore, he added, “Most of what we Clinton have already been able to do in terms of beating economic policy into what we’ve seen as a good country is enable another round of tax cuts for the rich and another round of the rich.” Then came President Barack Obama and “the utter failure of actually implementing what I thought were the standard rules of the game that we learned in the Great Depression,” DeLong said.
Over time, DeLong concluded that neoliberalism and social democracy would not alternate gently. Politically, the future will instead be about “the return of something Madeleine Albright called.” fascismAnd who am I to tell her not to do that. In economic terms, it will be about rising inequality, lower productivity and slow growth. “Maybe we have solved the production problem,” Li Delong said. “We certainly have not solved the problem of distribution, or the use of our extraordinary vast wealth to make us happy and good.”
The story the book tells is compelling, although at times it is overpowering in its detail and overlapping in its argument. The global south – where the majority of humanity lives – is receiving swift treatment. DeLong argues that inserting a large part of his economic history into his book would have been too complicated. While he points to the evidence that colonial empires robbed the occupied territories of prosperity, he maintains that the North “causally led” the “progress” of the South. However, the book is fair and kind-hearted as well. “There is someone in Bangladesh who is almost certain to be a better economics professor than me and is now behind a water buffalo,” he told me. “The market economy gives me and my preferences 200 times its sound and weight. If this isn’t the biggest market failure ever, I don’t know what your definition of market failure is.”
For all its troubles, the long twentieth century gave a huge boom to billions of people: cell phones, white-collar jobs, birth control pills, penicillin, space exploration, household appliances, electrical networks, the Internet. If a brilliant period of prosperity ends, as DeLong claims, governments will face the daunting task of promoting representative democracy, reallocating the world’s vast resources more equitably, and reigniting productivity growth. As for DeLong, he faces an even more pressing challenge: figuring out what to do with the hundreds of thousands of words he carves out. Sluggishness towards the utopia. Thought he might write a history of economics, he stopped. This story may start in 6000 BC