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Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century Hardcover – September 6, 2022
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"A magisterial history."—Paul Krugman
Before 1870, humanity lived in dire poverty, with a slow crawl of invention offset by a growing population. Then came a great shift: invention sprinted forward, doubling our technological capabilities each generation and utterly transforming the economy again and again. Our ancestors would have presumed we would have used such powers to build utopia. But it was not so. When 1870–2010 ended, the world instead saw global warming; economic depression, uncertainty, and inequality; and broad rejection of the status quo.
Economist Brad DeLong's Slouching Towards Utopia tells the story of how this unprecedented explosion of material wealth occurred, how it transformed the globe, and why it failed to deliver us to utopia. Of remarkable breadth and ambition, it reveals the last century to have been less a march of progress than a slouch in the right direction.
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“A magisterial history…asks the right questions and teaches us a lot of crucial history along the way.” ―Paul Krugman
“I’ve been waiting for Brad [DeLong]’s big economic history opus for a long time now.” ―Ezra Klein
“An unmissable book…The strength of the book—as well as its immense scope and depth…is that it’s a work of political economy, braiding the different strands of ideas, Hayek, Polanyi and Keynes…Definitely one to read.”―Diane Coyle
“If you want to follow the conversation right now on global economic history, you should check out Brad DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia.”―Adam Tooze, on The Ezra Klein Show
“A masterfully sweeping account…a joy to read. Few economic historians have as fluent a grasp of political or military history or, more important, write as lucidly and with such great flair about these subjects.” ―Liaquat Ahamed, Foreign Affairs
“A magisterial new economic history.”―Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
“A masterpiece.” ―Zachary D. Carter, Dissent
“Slouching Towards Utopia is an impressive achievement, written with wit and style and a formidable command of detail.” ―The Economist
“DeLong explores the slice of history he has chosen – the ‘long twentieth century’ from 1870 to 2010 – in depth, and he often writes with verve combined with thought-provoking detail.” ―The Daily Telegraph
“This is a brilliant and important book. It offers an original and penetrating analysis of what its author calls ‘the long twentieth century,’ the period of unprecedented economic advance that began roughly in 1870 and ended, he asserts, in 2010. Material abundance poured upon humanity. Previous generations would have thought such wealth to be a guarantee of utopia. Yet the age of material progress has ended not in a utopia, but in recrimination and discord. No book has explained the successes and failures of this extraordinary period with comparable insight.”―Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator, Financial Times
“Worries that the future will be worse than the present are an excellent reason to read economic histories such as Bradford DeLong’s new book, Slouching Towards Utopia.”―Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed
“DeLong written the most entertaining End Times narrative since The Late Great Planet Earth.”―Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review
“Deeply engaging…a work of strikingly expansive breadth and scope.”―Benjamin M. Friedman, Harvard Magazine
"A fantastic read…you don’t have to be an economist or historian to enjoy this book or reach for the smelling salts to revive you from boredom.”―Patrick Luciani, The Hub
“[The book] does what all the best nonfiction books do: change the way you understand the world around you.” ―Nathan Baschez, Every
“One of the most ambitious and admirable economic history books of the year...DeLong is a guide whose conclusions I cannot fault.” ―Strategy + Business
“This volume, partly an economic history but mostly a thorough record of the global economy’s connection with politics, is destined to become a classic in its category.”―Library Journal
“The author conveys a wealth of information in elegant, accessible prose, combining grand, epochal perspectives with fascinating discursions on everything from alternating-current electricity to the gender wage gap. The result is a cogent interpretation of economic modernity that illuminates both its nigh-miraculous achievements and its seething discontents.”―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[T]he author ably anatomizes his subject with admirable clarity, offering accessible and illuminating explanations of key historical shifts and the socio-economic forces driving them… A sprawling but carefully argued, edifying account of modern economic history and its impact on global well-being.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Brad DeLong learnedly and grippingly tells the story of how all the economic growth since 1870 has created a global economy that today satisfies no one’s ideas of fairness. The long journey toward economic justice and more equal rights and opportunities for all shall and will continue.”―Thomas Piketty, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century
“What a joy to finally have Brad DeLong’s masterful interpretation of twentieth-century economic history down on paper. Slouching Towards Utopia is engaging, important, and awe-inspiring in its breadth and creativity.”
―Christina Romer, University of California, Berkeley
“History provides the only data we have for charting a course forward in these turbulent times. I have not seen a more revealing and illuminating book about economics and what it means in a very long time. Slouching Towards Utopia should be required reading for anybody who cares about the future of the global system, and that should be everyone.”
―Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University
“An intellectually exciting and entertaining gallop along the arc of twentieth-century economic history. Brad DeLong puts together the puzzle of the past to tell a story of remarkable achievements as well as setbacks. A great way to understand the forces that have shaped the world today.”
―Minouche Shafik, director, London School of Economics and Political Science
“The period 1870–2010—what Brad DeLong calls the ‘long twentieth century’—saw the world break decisively free of its Malthusian chains, with levels of per capita economic growth without any parallel in human history. This wonderfully researched and written book explains the roots of this vertiginous ascent towards utopia, while also exposing the causes of the subsequent flat-lining in our economic fortunes and what action is now needed to ensure the long century is viewed by future historians as the historical rule, not the exception.”
―Andrew G. Haldane, former chief economist, Bank of England
“Brad DeLong manages brilliantly to combine detailed analysis of a huge sweep of global history with an accessible and engaging narrative. The result is a book full of well-founded and penetrating insights that will appeal to anyone interested in the causes and consequences of modern economic growth.”
―Robert C. Allen, distinguished professor of economic history, New York University, Abu Dhabi, and senior research fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford
About the Author
- Publisher : Basic Books; 1st edition (September 6, 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 624 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0465019595
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465019595
- Reading age : 13 years and up
- Grade level : 11 and up
- Item Weight : 1.94 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 2.15 x 9.55 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the authors
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The period is chosen at its start the rate of economic growth rapidly increases, and for the first time, allows the population to escape from the Malthusian trap that was the lot of humans from prehistory, and certainly since the start of civilization. While before then the upsetting of our ape-evolved social hierarchies was the only way for individuals and groups to improve their lot by getting a larger share of resources, but by and large, elites controlled the social system in a variety of ways ensuring that most of the population remained poor and at the mercy of those elites. After 1870, the wealth rapidly improved for most of the population, although the inequality seemed to increase, except for 2 periods, most recently for the 30 years after WWII. However, since 2010, after the financial collapse of 2007, growth has returned to a slow, pre-1870 rate, and inequality has increased with a vengeance. The author uses the framework of Hayek (the market is all) and Polyani (other rights to wealth and status) is important to show how different political systems have managed their economies, with some moderate, but variable success. [ I well recall a British tv political show that at the beginning of the Thatcher era suggested that the government should stop trying to make teh population happier and focus on wealthier - a Hayekian ideal that was the start of the neoliberal in the US and Britain.] 2010 saw the end of any success of the neoliberal experiment, and populations have been turning back to authoritarian/fascist approaches, last seen between WWI and WWII, and what the socialist systems of the USSR and China evolved into.
DeLong has no answer for the why's of this history, nor any prescription to get societies moving forward toward a utopia again. [This is unlike Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century". DeLong wisely just provides a rich, beautifully written, economic history that could easily become a required reading, and rather than like many historians make historical events seem inevitable with hindsight, he acknowledges that how the twists and turns of history have resulted are not clear and that he may even be an imperfect historian as events overlap with his experiences.
For myself, I think that the struggle of individuals and groups to ascend our evolutionary-determined social pyramid explains some of why various systems resulted in wealth inequality, either stably or by revolution. Whatever the system, some will always do anything to ascend to teh top of the pyramid by whatever means they have - by force of arms, by a revolt of the masses, by wealth accumulation through commerce, and so forth.
My only niggle is that the editors missed some errors - most notable that it was Edward VIII, not VII who abdicated the British throne, and it seems that autocorrect has changed some words that I do not think teh author intended. Hopefully, a 2nd edition will fix any errors and language. But these are niggles in what is a superb book and highly recommended.
Additional full disclosure: I am a recovering libertarian, thanks in part to Brad De Long.
I have been waiting for this book for 20 years, ever since I read some draft chapters that Brad De Long posted in the late 90s on his blog. It has been worth the wait. One of the basic truths of our time is the fake news asymmetry principle: “It is much easier to make up lies and fake news, than it is to debunk them.”. Brad Delong’s world economic history of the long 20th Century gives you the tools to debunk and call out fake news.
For example, many other grand stories (or “narratives”) about the 20th Century (“Age of Extremes” by Hobspawn and “Commanding Heights” by Yergin and Stanislaw) focus excessively on the rivalry of ideas between Marxism and “neoliberalism”, as represented by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. Yet, in the political discourse of the last 30 years, Marxism has mostly been a foil for the right and was supported by only a small minority on the left. The viewpoint that today’s left is nothing else than your Grandpa’s Marxism is an example of fake news. Instead, the counterpoint in the battle of ideas to neoliberalism is identified by Brad De Long as Karl Polanyi and related ideas of European-style social democracy. Polanyi’s key insight was that markets did not just bring explosive economic growth since 1870, but also started to decouple themselves from social relations that used to embed them. For example, it used to be much more natural for CEOs to feel social responsibility, instead of focusing on shareholder value only. The vanguard of this decoupling process was Friedrich Hayek, who argued that unless we let unconstrained markets reign, the state will enslave us all. In contrast Polanyi argued that if nobody deliberately regulates the market, the backlash against untamed markets will enslave us all. Or in the words of John Kennedy: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.“ (Inauguration Speech). It is hard to see Republicans' turn towards MAGA not as basically confirming Polanyi's argument. Hayek vs Polanyi is the central tension that makes you understand the long 20th Century and it continues to shape our lives today. And I applaud Brad De Long for writing about Hayek and especially Polanyi in such a clear and accessible way.
A second strength of this book is that I think it is actually ideologically balanced (instead of being fake balanced like Fox News). Much of the tale of economic growth in the 20th Century is about the pendulum swings in globalization and about technological progress and Brad De Long discusses these trends without falling into the trap of only seeing the positive side of less hunger and less poverty for many. Instead, he emphasizes throughout the long shadow of slavery, privilege and exclusion. Similarly, “government failure” isn’t just the story of corruption and incompetence but also of insufficient intervention and failure to keep markets open for everyone.
Finally, the book is full of little historical gems, that are thought-provoking and insightful. For example:
(1) Why did neoliberalism persist as convincing story of the how the world works, both on the left and on the right, when the track record of its policies is quite poor? Brad De Long: Reagan got credit for the fall of the USSR (with lots of hindsight bias about the “inevitable collapse of the Soviet command economy”!) (p.453)
(2) How does pre-1914 globalization differ from post-1989 globalization? Brad De Long: transnational corporate control was infeasible then but is the norm now (p.483) – this reinforces the notion that anonymous global forces shape local daily life and explains why MAGA's rallies against “Globalism” are effective.
(3) How was fascism and Nazism possible in the heart of civilized Western Europe and Germany, the country of Immanuel Kant, a key philosopher of the Enlightenment? Brad De Long: People failed to respond to market forces destroying the social foundations they are based on. And neoliberals have a pretty sad history of standing up for democracy and constitutional human rights. For example, it is well-known that Milton Friedman supported Pinochet’s fascist regime in Chile in the 1970s. But Brad De Long also shows that even the libertarians Ludwig Van Mises and Friedrich Hayek supported the idea that fascism should be used to halt political movements towards social democracy. (p280) Remember that the next time Rand Paul wants to tell you something about civil liberties!