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Brad DeLong knows the economic miracle is over

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Brad DeLong believed the story began in 1870.

A polymath economist, he had written a book on economic modernity — how humans had moved from subsistence on a small planet to building a kind of utopia — and he Centuries after the emergence of the doctrine, decades after its emergence, we saw an inflection point. of large-scale manufacturing. “The industrial revolution is great. But “as of 1870, things haven’t changed much for most people.” After developing, “everything changes in one generation and then again and again and again.” Global growth increases fourfold. The world will lift itself out of near-universal agricultural poverty. Modernity takes hold.

DeLong began working on the story in 1994. He spawned hundreds of thousands of words, then hundreds of thousands of them, updating texts as academic economics and the world itself changed. He wrote for years and decades, so he ended up writing about 5% of the time capitalism itself existed. The problem wasn’t understanding how the story began. The problem was knowing when it finished.

Eventually, I decided that the era that began in 1870 would end in 2010. It was just after productivity growth and GDP growth collapsed. Inequality was squeezing economic vitality around the world and Levantist political populism was on the rise.write some more and he’s done Leaning towards utopia, one of the most anticipated economics books of the year, comes out on Tuesday. His long-running research into what he calls “long his twentieth century” is sweeping and detailed, learning and accessible, familiar and strange. promise. His decision to end the story and complete his book in 2010 has a message for all of us. And now it’s over.

As for DeLong himself, he’s an economic historian, UC Berkeley macroeconomist, liberal policy veteran, and one of the first economic bloggers to go before the word. As such, he still publishes his thoughts almost every day. blog It was invented in 1999. I think his story really begins in Washington, D.C. The son of a lawyer and a clinical psychologist, he grew up obsessed with science fiction and a master of mathematics. (His mother still sees patients.) He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and then a Ph.D. He earned a PhD in economics, wrote a dissertation, and worked with teenage Soviet refugees André Schleifer (now his second-most-cited economist on the planet) and Larry Summers (former Treasury Secretary and Harvard I formed a close friendship with the president of the university. “Brad would like to write with you if you want to ask your collaborators to do something bold, potentially important, potentially wrong, and unlikely to satisfy a pedantic academic reviewer.” “I’m a big fan of him,” Summers told me.

In addition to his studies, DeLonge worked in the Clinton administration. He married legal scholar Anne-Marie Marciarille, an expert in medical regulation. They had two children, now adults. And he started blogging. This is probably what he is best known for. Since 1999 he has written in “Half Diary”. (Over the years, he has denounced more than a dozen people as “the stupidest man alive,” including former World Bank President Bob Zoellick. was.)

DeLong’s book project preceded blogging. In 1994, he read a book by socialist historian Eric Hobsbawm. time of extremes, About the “short twentieth century” from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. That circumstances of his birth,” DeLonge told me.

The heroic part is heroic: For the first time in history, the world managed to create, says DeLonge. enough 1870 onwards. Enough to end subsistence farming in much of the world. enough to reduce global child mortality from nearly 50% to less than 5%. Today, many of the poorest people on the planet have access to mobile phones and electricity. But the tragic part is tragic. This modern age has also brought machine guns, atomic bombs, Holocaust atrocities, and other genocides. And while so many economies have succeeded, so many governments have failed. We have failed to end racial injustice, protect the most vulnerable, allow everyone to share in the prosperity of the world, and protect our common environment.

In basements, attics, and offices, DeLong continued to collect books. He used free-marketist Friedrich Hayek and socialist Karl Polanyi as the central characters, then woven in detail about the vast cast of characters. Henry Ford; Keynes; Hitler; Gandhi; his great uncle, an economic historian named Abbott Payson Usher.

His editor kept checking in. A friend of his asked about a draft he had read many years ago. The project has grown in complexity. “I had an editor who said, [they were] If it doesn’t fit in 150,000 words, drop it,” DeLong told me. (The book eventually got him 180,000 copies, and he added online notes and an appendix.) But he kept learning new things. “I can start reading a book, and from there I can spin up a subturing instantiation of the author’s mind in my brain and run it in wetware,” he told me. You can ask it. answer” He added of his thought process: Or maybe we have a faint grasp of what is real and what is not. “

In 1999, he thought the book might end by discussing what Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history.” The economy, which was popularized in the book of the same name that heralds a triumph. “There were these huge ideological battles, but now it’s kind of took” DeLong said, explaining his thinking at the turn of the millennium. But then came 9/11 and the global war on terror. “People seemed to be starting a mass killing over religion,” said DeLonge. He added, “Most of what we Clintonists have actually managed to do in terms of hammering economic policy into what we thought was a good state of affairs was another tax cut for the rich and plutocracy. It was to allow another round.” Then President Barack Obama came on board and said, “It was a very unsuccessful attempt to actually implement what I thought was the standard strategy learned in the Great Depression. I did,” DeLong said.

In time, DeLong concluded that neoliberalism and social democracy would not alternate gently.Politically speaking, the future is “Madeleine Albright fascism, and I who tell her not to, ”he said. Economically speaking, it means high inequality, low productivity and slow growth. “The production issue may have been resolved,” DeLong told me. “The problem of distribution and the use of extraordinary and enormous wealth to make us happy and good people is certainly not resolved.”

The stories the book tells are compelling, but at times the details are overwhelming and the arguments seem telescopic. The global South, home to the majority of humanity, is treated loosely. DeLong argues that much of its economic history is too complex to fit in his book. It claims to have “causally guided” the “progress” of the South. Yet the book is also justice-minded and kind-hearted. “There are people in Bangladesh who are arguably better economics professors than me and who are behind the buffalo now,” he told me. “The market economy gives me and my tastes 200 times more voice and weight than his. Hmm.”

Mobile phones, white-collar jobs, contraceptives, penicillin, space exploration, consumer electronics, power grids, the Internet, and many more, the long 20th century brought enormous prosperity to billions of people. . As DeLong argues, if an era of spectacular prosperity is over, governments face a greater challenge to strengthen representative democracy, more fairly redistribute the world’s vast resources, and rekindle productivity growth. To do. As for DeLong, he has more pressing issues. It’s about figuring out what to do with the hundreds of thousands of words he cut out. Leaning towards utopiaHe thinks he might write economic history.The story may begin in 6000 BC